Graduation and Dropout Rates in Tennessee
Authors: Dana Spoonmore and Allison Pams
This report details the federal and state criteria for calculating high school graduation rates and dropout rates in Tennessee. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015 requires states to use the adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) formula for calculating graduation rates. The ACGR compares the number of 12th grade students who graduate with a regular diploma with the number of students enrolled in 9th grade four years earlier, referred to as a cohort. In the 2021-22 school year, the Tennessee ACGR was 89.8 percent.
Federal law does not require states and districts to track and report dropout rates, but nearly half of all states, including Tennessee, voluntarily report dropout rates on the education report cards required by ESSA. Tennessee uses a cohort dropout rate formula based on the same 9th grade cohort used for calculating the ACGR. The formula divides the total number of dropouts by the total number of students in the cohort to determine the dropout rate. In the 2021-22 school year, the Tennessee cohort dropout rate was 8.6 percent.
OREA found that certain student subgroups are more likely to drop out and not graduate from high school because of multiple factors. In 2021-22, English learners in Tennessee had an ACGR of 67.8 percent and a dropout rate of 30 percent. The rates of economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities also fell below the state rate.
The report also details the four phases of the graduation cohort process administered by the Tennessee Department of Education each year as well as the state’s system of completion and withdrawal codes used to track the graduation or dropout status of each student in a cohort.
Federal graduation rate requirements do not allow states to make exceptions in any circumstances, including those over which districts or schools have no control (e.g., incarcerated students and students with permanent medical withdrawals).