Information Services - Statistical Reports

Annual Dropout Rate vs. Cohort Graduation Rate

In Massachusetts, we strive to improve the quality of the public education system so that students are adequately prepared for higher education, rewarding employment, continued education, and responsible citizenship. Raising graduation rates is an important part of this goal. The annual dropout rate and the cohort graduation rate are two of the methods that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MA ESE) uses to measure how the State's schools and districts are doing with respect to this important goal. One statistic is not the inverse of the other, nor are they duplicative. Each statistic provides a particular and distinct perspective on a school's success in keeping high school students in school. This overview explains each measure and the key differences between the two.

Annual Dropout Rate

The annual dropout rate is calculated by dividing the number of students who drop out over a one-year period by the October 1 grade 9–12 enrollment, multiplied by 100. Dropouts are those students who dropped out of school between July 1 and June 30 of a given year and who did not return to school, graduate, or receive a GED by the following October 1. This dropout measure was developed by the U.S. Department of Education and has been reported by DESE since 1993. Prior to 1993, DESE reported a dropout rate that included all students who dropped out of school regardless of whether they returned to school

The annual dropout rate for the 2005–06 school year is calculated as follows:

2005–06 Annual Dropout Rate
(Dropouts − Returned
Dropouts) = Final Dropout

October 1 2005
Grade 9–12 Enrollment
x 100

Since the 2001–02 school year, the rate has been based on student-level data collected through the Student Information Management System. Prior to then the rates were based on aggregate counts collected from school districts.

When reporting the annual dropout rate, the DESE also reports a projected four-year dropout rate, based on the annual rate at each grade level. The projected four-year dropout rate is an estimation of the cumulative effect of four years of students dropping out of school for a given graduating class (e.g., class of 2010). The methodology assumes that (1) current annual dropout rates for grades ten, eleven, and twelve will remain constant over the next three years, and (2) students who drop out will not return to school after October 1 of the following year.

Annual dropout reports and additional information on the methodology used to calculate dropout rates can be found at the Dropout Rates homepage.

Cohort Graduation Rate

The cohort graduation rate is a new statistic first reported by DESE in winter 2007. DESE calculates and reports graduation rates as part of overall efforts to improve educational outcomes for all students. In addition, reporting graduation rates is required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and by a National Governors Association compact that Massachusetts has signed. The rate tracks a cohort of students from 9th grade through high school and represents the percentage of the cohort that graduates within a certain amount of time. DESE reported a four-year graduation rate for the 2006 cohort and plans to report a five-year graduation rate for that same cohort when the data become available.

The four-year graduation rate for the 2006 cohort is calculated as follows:

# of students in cohort who graduate in 4 years or less
[# of 1st time entering 9th graders in 2002–03] − transfers out + transfers in

As part of the reporting of the graduation rate, the DESE also reports the status of students who did not graduate in four years. Non-graduates include students still enrolled in high school, students who earned a GED or received a certificate of attainment rather than a diploma, or dropped out. The cohort dropout rate is the percentage of students in a cohort who dropped out of school at any time in grades 9–12 and did not return.

More information on the cohort graduation rates can be found at the Graduation Rates homepage.

The annual dropout rate provides information about one particular school year and all students enrolled in high school in that year. For example, in the 2005-06 school year 3.3 percent of high school students dropped out of school and did not return by October 1, 2006.

In comparison, the cohort graduation rate and the cohort dropout rate provide information about a particular group of students followed over the course of high school. For example, 79.9 percent of the students in the 2006 cohort (i.e. all students who started high school at the grade/year that would typically indicate a 2006 graduation date) graduated within four years. Of this same group of students, 11.7 percent dropped out and did not return or get a GED.