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Graduation Rate

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Frequently Asked Questions on Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate and Documentation of Transfers

Who Counts?

Who counts as a graduate?

The graduation rate is defined as the percent of students who graduated from secondary school with a regular diploma in the standard number of years, which in most cases is four but could be three or two. It cannot be more than four. Students who graduate in less than four years are counted with the students in their assigned four-year cohort, not in the year when they actually graduate. The formula for reporting four-year graduates in 2015 is as follows:

# of 2011 cohort members who earned a regular diploma through summer 2015
# of first-time ninth graders in fall 2011 (starting cohort) plus students who transferred in, minus students who transferred out, emigrated, or died during school years 2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15, and through summer of 2015.

Students who have dropped out of school and undocumented transfers must remain in the cohort number but will not count as graduates.

How is a student assigned to a cohort?

The original cohort comprises entering first-time ninth-graders in the school district.  Any student who transfers in after the opening of school is assigned to the cohort that corresponds to the cohort the student would have been in if he or she had been in your school as an entering freshman.  This applies to students coming into the school from any other location, even outside of the United States.  The district determines the cohort placement and the student remains in that cohort through the rest of high school.

When is a student a dropout?

One of the aims of the new adjusted cohort graduation rate is to increase the accuracy of the country’s dropout and graduate data so that we can get a true picture of students who are not earning diplomas.  In order to do that, the real count of those who drop out or whose transfers cannot be documented must remain in the denominator of the formula.  Undocumented transfers count as dropouts.  When assessing who is a dropout, the important criterion, according to the federal law, is to demonstrate that the student is continuing his or her education in an instructional program that leads to a standard state high school diploma.  A student is a dropout when he or she has terminated his or her education before graduation or when a district cannot verify that the student is pursuing an education toward a regular diploma in another educational location.   In the following examples, these students would be coded as dropouts:

  • Left school to get a GED;
  • Has not shown up for ten consecutive days and/or his or her whereabouts are unknown;
  • Purported to be homeschooled but produced no documentation; or
  • Entered the high school in the senior year then did not show up after a period of time. Once the school district accepts a transferred SID or assigns a new SID to a student at any time, that school owns the student’s records.

When is a student still considered enrolled?

A student is considered enrolled if he or she is included in a program of instruction that leads to a regular high school diploma.  That program could be in an alternative program, an adult school program, a bilingual program or a special education placement, as long as the student is working toward a diploma. Students who take part in alternative program options are not counted as transfers, as long as they are still in the home school district.  If the programs are outside of the district, they would be coded as transfers to a public school outside the district.  Students who are not on track to graduate in four years may continue their education working toward a diploma, but they will not count in the district’s four-year graduation rate.  In 2012, the Department of Education will begin to report a five-year rate based on the 2007 cohort in addition to the four-year rate of 2011 for the same cohort.  However, keep in mind that the official graduation rate is the four-year one.

The Process of Documenting Transfers

How are transfers documented?

In July of 2010, the Department of Education sent districts a memo, along with the federal guidance on the adjusted cohort graduation rate and a form to keep on file for the documentation of transfers.  The form lists the various transfer codes and defines what constitutes acceptable proof of a transfer.  The forms are intended to make it easy and uniform for districts to keep documentation of transfers on file to satisfy the requirement that there must be documentation of a transfer in order to avoid having the student coded as a dropout.  The requirement places the responsibility on the district for making sure that students are working toward a diploma in some educational setting that will result in the student’s receiving a standard diploma.  Districts must file documentation in a manner that is easily retrievable in the event of an audit or monitoring review.

What is the retention period required for the transfer form and the documentation of the transfer?

The proof of transfer is part of the student’s record.  NJDOE regulations require the following:



Pupil File/Student Record – Mandated Student Record (Classified and NonClassified Student)

“…pupil transfer data… high school discharge card and supporting documentation as required by the State Board of Education”