High Graduation Rates Fail to Tell Whole Story

By Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst

[Madison, Wisc…] Wisconsin retained its spot as one of the leaders in the country when it comes to high school graduation rates in 2010-2011. Eighty-seven percent of the state’s pupils earned their diplomas in four years, according to data released last week by the United States’ Department of Education.

While that was good enough to tie the Badger State with Vermont for the second-highest rate in the country, it also showcased Wisconsin’s ongoing problems with achievement gaps between different groups of students.

Though 91 percent of the state’s white students graduated in four years – the second-highest mark in the nation – only 72 percent of Hispanic and Latino students could claim the same. That figure dropped to 64 percent for African American students. The 27 percent gap between white and African American pupils was the third-largest in the country. Wisconsin also had the eighth-highest gap between Hispanic and white students at 19 percent.

The state’s rank dropped to 15th when it came to Limited English Proficient (LEP) students. Sixty-six percent of LEP pupils graduated in four years or less in Wisconsin. That mark trailed behind other states like West Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas and Indiana.

Wisconsin also dropped out of the national top 10 when it came to the graduation rates of student groups like children with disabilities (67 percent, tied for 13th overall) and economically disadvantaged students (74 percent, tied for 11th overall).

Regionally, other states in the Midwest put together a solid showing in four-year graduation rates. Wisconsin trailed only Iowa in terms of neighboring states. Indiana (86 percent) and Nebraska (86 percent) also achieved marks that put them in the top 10 of all accounted-for states in America.

Midwest Grad Rates, 2010-2011

In all, the 87 percent graduation rate in Wisconsin is a postive result in a category that the Badger State has traditionally been an American leader. However, problems have persisted when it comes to closing achievement gaps between different groups of students.

While the state has made progress in reducing the difference between pupils over the past decade, the Department of Education’s results show that Wisconsin can’t afford to rest on its laurels when it comes to preparing students for higher education opportunities.