Mass. fails to crack top 10 for high school graduation rates

Massachusetts failed to crack the top 10 for the best high school graduation rates in the nation and also had among the lowest rates in New England, according to data released by the US Education Department today that for the first time provides a uniform calculation for graduation rates.

Some 83 percent of Massachusetts 12th-graders during the 2010-11 school year graduated within four years, a rate that tied the Bay State with six other states — Connecticut, Kansas, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota.

Iowa had the highest rate at 88 percent. Coming up next were Wisconsin and Vermont at 87 percent; Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas at 86 percent; and Maine and Illinois at 84 percent.

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Previously, states reported graduation rates using their own methodology to the US Department of Education – a situation that made it impossible to accurately compare rates between the states.

The US Education Department is mandating that graduation rates — calculated under its methodology — become a key element of accountability systems across the nation.

“By using this measure, states will be more honest in holding schools accountable and ensuring that students succeed,” said US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Ultimately, these data will help states target support to ensure more students graduate on time, college and career ready.”

Paul Reville, Massachusetts secretary of education, cautioned that the federal data still does not provide a complete apples-to-apples comparison, noting that standards to earn a diploma can still vary greatly among the 50 states — making it easier for students in some states to graduate than in others.

“Our graduation standard is higher than most states,” Reville said. “It’s not surprising we wouldn’t have the highest rate. But with that said, we are striving to improve our graduation rate.”

Massachusetts is usually a higher performer on national measures of academic strength, often coming in first in terms of SAT scores, for example.