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High school graduation rates up, but some states lag behind

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More high school students are hitting the books and getting their degrees within four years, data from the National Center for Education Statistics show. But not every state is part of that positive trend.

About 74.7 percent of high school students in the class of 2007-08 graduated on time, up from 72 percent of the class of 2002. But on-time graduation rates dropped by more than 5 percent in Utah, the District of Columbia, and Nevada over the same period. In eight other states (Alabama, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Vermont), the graduation rate climbed by 5 percent or more over the same period.

The state with the highest graduation rate is Wisconsin, where 89.6 percent of high school freshmen finished in four years. Sixteen other states also cracked the 80 percent threshold: Vermont, Minnesota, Iowa, New Jersey, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Connecticut, Montana, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Idaho.

Meanwhile, our nation's capital had the lowest graduation rate, at 56 percent. Alaska, Alabama, Florida, New Mexico, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Nevada trailed the 70 percent graduation rate mark.

The report used a fairly convoluted formula to estimate the on-time graduation rate. Here's the report's explanation of the technique:

To [find the graduation rate], it uses the averaged freshman graduation rate—an estimate of the number of regular diplomas issued in a given year divided by an estimate of the averaged enrollment base for the freshman class four years earlier. For each year, the averaged freshman enrollment count is the sum of the number of 8th-graders 5 years earlier, the number of 9th-graders 4 years earlier (when current-year seniors were freshmen), and the number of 10th-graders 3 years earlier, divided by 3.

The intent of this averaging is to account for the high rate of grade retention in the freshman year, which adds 9th-grade repeaters from the previous year to the number of students in the incoming freshman class each year.

(Map of graduation rates: The National Center for Education Statistics)

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