State-Level High School Completion Rates: Concepts, Measures, and Trends

Warren, John
Working paper no. 2005-03


Since the early 1970s the national rate at which incoming 9th graders have completed high school has fallen consistently; this is also true for 46 states. In 2000, about two thirds of students who might have completed high school actually did so; in some states this figure is substantially lower. In this paper I review state-level measures of high school completion rates, and describe and vali-date a new measure that reports these rates for 1973 through 2000. Existing measures based on Current Population Surveys are conceptually imperfect and statistically unreliable. Measures based on Common Core Data (CCD) dropout information are unavailable for many states and have different conceptual weaknesses. Existing measures based on CCD enrollment and completion data are systematically biased by migration, changes in cohort size, and grade retention. The new CCD-based measure described here is considerably less biased, performs differently in empirical analyses, and gives a different picture of the dropout situation across states and over time.