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There’s no doubt about it: We have a graduation rate problem in the United States. However, one of the biggest problems might not be what you think. It is not simply the hundreds of thousands of students failing to graduate on time or the hundreds of thousands of graduates who leave high school but still require remediation upon postsecondary enrollment. One of the most challenging yet least talked about problems is the four-year cohort graduation rate calculation itself.

While students are enrolled in a typical high school for four years—grades nine to twelve—the four-year cohort graduation rate calculation waits until the fourth year to account for their progress toward graduation. After four years, a student is stamped with a one-time designation of “graduated on time” or “did not graduate on time.”

That approach makes sense in a world in which students attend the same high school all four years. But in an increasing number of communities, that is no longer the world we live in. Especially with the advent of online schools and other choice options, many students now attend multiple schools over the course of their high school experience. Yet only the school that last enrolled a student is evaluated for her success or failure.

Read the full article in Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

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