Frequently Asked Questions

Every Child a Graduate: Improving High School Graduation

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Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate:

Q. Who is counted as a graduate in the 4-year adjusted cohort rate?

A. Students are assigned to a permanent cohort based on two factors:

  • School year of the student’s first high school enrollment period in Wisconsin, and
  • Student’s grade level placement at the time of that first high school enrollment period.

To be counted as a graduate under the four-year adjusted cohort rate, a student must earn a regular diploma on or during the summer following their fourth year of high school. This includes early graduates.  For more information, see Reporting Data about High School Completion Credentials

For extended timeframe, six-year adjusted cohort rate, and other information see Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rates.

Q. How is a “regular” diploma defined? My district issues several different diplomas.

A. A regular diploma is defined as any high school diploma issued by the school district under s.118.33 (1) Wis. Stats.

Students that are enrolled in an alternative education program and demonstrate a level of proficiency in the subject credit areas required in s.118.33 (1)(a) Wis. Stats. may be counted as having earned a regular diploma even if the diploma issued by the school district has a different title.  Successful completion of a special education under PI 18.04 Wis. Admin. Code may also result in the issuance of a diploma.

General Education Development (GED) credentials, certificates of attendance, or any alternative awards are not considered regular diplomas. (Federal regulations – 34 C.F.R. §200.19(b)(1)(iv)).

Q. Does the four-year rate include the summer following a student’s fourth (senior) year?

A. Yes, a student that earns a (regular) diploma issued by the school district under s.118.33(1) and is exited before the beginning of the (fall) school term following their fourth year is counted as graduating within the four year timeframe.

See: Submitting and Publicly Reporting Data about High School Completion Credentials.

Q. What happens when a student is credit deficient because they missed a lot of school due to illness or they transferred from another district?

A. Every student is assigned to a graduation “cohort” upon entering a Wisconsin high school for the first time. This cohort is used to calculate the 4-year, 5-year, and 6-year adjusted cohort rates. Assignment to a cohort is based on two factors:

  • School year of student’s first high school enrolment period in a Wisconsin school (ISES Year End records), and
  • Student’s grade level placement at time of that first high school enrollment period.

Students remain in their cohort, EXCEPT for students who: 

  • transfer to non-public Wisconsin schools,
  • emigrate to another country, and
  • who die.

Students who for any reason do not graduate with their cohort within four years and continue their education are counted as “known to be continuing.”  When they do earn a regular diploma, they are credited in the extended year graduation rates as appropriate.  The five-year rate includes all students graduating in five years or less.  The six-year graduation rate includes all students earning a regular diploma in 6 years or less (e.g., in 3, 4, 5 and 6 years). 

The adjusted cohort graduation rates changed the calculations published for schools and districts as well as the accountability goals. They do not change school board policy related to student graduation requirements. The student graduates when he/she meets requirements available under Wisconsin statute.

Q. The four-year rate only counts “on time” graduates.  What about students who have an IEP for five or six years in high school?

A. All states are required to report graduation results using a standardized calculation: the four-year adjusted cohort rate. Wisconsin began reporting this rate early in 2011 for the 2010 graduation cohort, and used the rate as part of the 2011-12 accountability calculations.  Most students who take longer than four-years to complete high school are counted in the extended, six-year adjusted cohort rates (all students graduating in 6 years or less).

Q. How does the new graduation rate affect students who take more than four years to graduate?

A. The new method of determining graduation rates does not affect students who take more than four years to graduate, including at-risk students and students with disabilities. Students have all the rights and options they had before. The graduation rate change does not change the responsibility of each district to provide the best programming for each student, which may include graduating from high school in five or six years. What changes is the way that districts are held accountable for these students and when they graduate.

A student graduating with a regular high school diploma in more than four years is included only in the denominator (all possible graduates) for the four-year adjusted cohort rate; all students graduating within six years or less are counted in the six-year adjusted cohort graduation rate.

Q. Does the four-year adjusted cohort rate punish districts for serving students beyond four years, even if it is a required part of a student’s individual education plan educational services for students until they are 20 or 21?

A. All states, including Wisconsin, are required to use a four-year adjusted cohort rate to report graduation.  Beginning in 2012-13, an extended rate—the six-year adjusted cohort graduation rate—is also used as an additional accountability measure. All students who earn a regular diploma within six years or less are credited in the six-year adjusted cohort rate.

Q. What can schools do to understand the new graduation rates?

A. In addition to working with their ISES coordinators to make sure that the correct data are provided for all students, school districts should work with their school boards to ensure that opportunities and policies are in place to support students in their pursuit of a regular diploma. Alternative pathways for at-risk students and special education students with IEP accommodations are provided for in the law.

Several resources are available:

Q. Can a district keep providing services for special education students through the school year they turn 21 if the students participate in graduation with their class?

A. Students with disabilities who will be continuing past four years may participate in graduation ceremonies with their four-year cohort as long as they are not formally awarded a regular diploma at that time.  The use of special education funds and FAPE (free appropriate public education) responsibility ends once a special education student receives a regular high school diploma, though a district may continue to provide services to a student with disabilities using other funds.

Note:   While HSED is a high school completion credential, it is not a diploma. Earning an HSED does not automatically end the right to public education for either regular education or special education students.

See Graduation of Students with Disabilities

Q. Are students who attend school through age 20 or 21 considered drop-outs in the new adjusted cohort rates?

A. No. While students who continue in school through age 20 or 21 will not be counted as an “on-time” graduate in the four-year rate, students that are “Known to be Continuing” are not counted as dropouts whether educated through age 19, 20, 21, or for more than 13 years of public education.

In addition to the four-year adjusted cohort rate, DPI reports an extended rate. In 2012-13, DPI began to use an extended rate—the six-year adjusted cohort graduation rate—as an additional accountability measure. All students who earn a regular diploma within six years or less are credited in the six-year adjusted cohort rate.

Q. May school districts turn away older students who are so credit deficient that they cannot graduate within the four-year timeframe?

A. No. The Wisconsin Constitution guarantees a free public education to students through age 20 (through age 21 if the student has a disability). The school district must enroll a student who has not graduated and has not yet attained the maximum age prior to the beginning of the school year.

Q. What happens to the graduation rate when a student is incarcerated? 

A. There are appropriate exit types for students who are incarcerated in a diploma-granting facility such as a Department of Corrections (adult) prison, juvenile correctional facility (Lincoln Hills or Copper Lake Schools), or a Health and Family Services facility where they can continue their education— and, thus, are no longer enrolled in the local school district. If they are exited with a “Known to be Continuing” exit type, they will not be included in the district graduation rate.

Student enrollment is based upon where a student is housed (i.e., where a student sleeps). As such, students in a juvenile detention facility or county jail are enrolled in the district where the jail or detention center is located. FAPE (free appropriate public education) responsibility for special education students then transfers to the new district. (Note: ISES/WSLS transfer occurs within 96 hours.)

Q. How will returning students who did not graduate in the cohort timeframe impact graduation rates?

A. Students remain in the original cohort year assigned in the school year of their first high school enrollment period in Wisconsin. Students enrolled in the district at the end of the 4-year or 6-year graduation timeframe without receiving a completion credential, count as continuing students until they complete a high school credential or reach their maximum age (21 years-old or 22 for students with a disability).