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States With the Best and Worst Graduation Rates

Worst: District of Columbia

We know that the District of Columbia isn’t technically a state, but we had to bring up their high school graduation rate. According to the Common Core of Data by the National Center of Data, D.C. has a graduation rate of 68.5%. That’s 20% lower than the national average.

That’s a pretty shocking number, especially for a place the capital of the United States. One might say it’s because there aren’t many schools in the district. However, if you include private and public schools, there are quite a few options out there.

Fun fact: Al Gore called District of Columbia home!

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Worst: New Mexico

As far as continental states go, the state with the lowest graduation rate is New Mexico. This certainly isn’t great, considering the United States has around an 88% high school graduation rate (aka a number that isn’t too hard to reach). While we’d like to say it’s getting better, New Mexico’s stats seem turbulent.

For the last few years, the state managed to increase its graduation rate from 2010-2011 when it was a mere 63%. However, the trend seems to be inconsistent. The rate bounces between 63% and 73.9% – the latter being the most current graduation statistic. Maybe they’ve finally broken the bad streak and will see an upward pattern.

Fun fact: Neil Patrick Harris hails from New Mexico!

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Worst: Alaska

Alaska has a few issues, but one of their biggest is their high school graduation rate. The most current statistics show that 78.5% of students who enter high school actually finish. Well, we do have to say that the state is getting better.

During the 2010-2011 school year, only 68% of students graduated from Alaskan high schools. Now, that number has improved by 10%. It’s actually been consistently getting better year-over-year, so whatever they’re doing is working. 

Fun fact: Sarah Palin is from Alaska!

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Worst: Arizona

Arizona’s stats aren’t great, and they could definitely improve. Around 78.7% of students who enter high school graduate, which is about 10% lower than the national average. Like many of the bottom-listers, Arizona has struggled to keep kids in class.

During the 2010-2011 school year, the stats were very similar – 78% of students graduating. Sadly, that number kept dropping until 2016 when they bounced back up to 80%. What’s going on? They were on an upward path, and now, they’re dropping again!

Fun fact: Emma Stone is from Arizona!

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Worst: Oregon

So, Oregon is supposed to be super smart, right? That’s something they taut. It turns out that they don’t have great stats. Currently, the high school graduation rate is 78.8%, but it could be worse. Previous years were actually a lot worse.

For three years in a row (from 2010 to 2013), the state couldn’t even break 70%. Only very recently has the state changed something up that’s encouraged kids to stay in school. Gotta say that a 10% jump is pretty good, though.

Fun fact: Ty Murrell called Oregon home!

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Worst: Michigan

Believe it or not, Michigan has remained pretty steady over the years. The lowest was 74% in 2010-2011, but that was a while ago. By 2015, the high school graduation rate hit 80%, and it’s been hanging out there ever since.

Data from Michigan’s own education department shows that the graduation rate from 2019 improved quite a bit. They list the rate at 81.41%. It may not be much longer that they’re on the bottom 10!

Fun fact: Believe it or not, Eminem is from Michigan!

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Worst: Idaho

Idaho is really strange. The National Center for Education Statistics didn’t have data for Idaho until the 2013-2014 school year. There are only two other states that had this phenomenon (Oklahoma and Kentucky). We had to do some digging, and we found an Idaho State Department of Education memo stating that Idaho’s high school graduation rate is on the rise (supposedly).

For 2018, 80.7% of students graduated high school. The previous year was 79.97%, while the year before that was 79.66%.  Well, they’re technically right. The graduation rates are improving even if it’s just 0.01%. At least 2018 is higher than that.

Fun fact: Aaron Paul is from Idaho!

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Worst: Colorado

For some reason, Colorado is another one we expected to be better. Not that 80.8% is awful (at least they aren’t as low as D.C.), but they have some pretty great schools. If you look at Colorado’s Department of Education stats, it looks slightly better, although it takes most kids longer than four years to get through high school.

The state lists for a six-year graduation rate for Class of 2017 to be 85.7%; we say again: six years. That’s closer to the national average, but six years is quite a bit. For 2019, the four-year graduation rate is much higher than the previous year at 81.1%.

Fun fact: Amy Adams hails from Colorado!

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Worst: South Carolina

South Carolina has some work to do, but we’re actually a little impressed. As of 2011, the graduation rate was a measly 74% – not even close to the national average at the time. Somehow, they’ve bumped it up to 81% for the 2018 graduating year. Good job, South Carolina!

Fun fact: Andie MacDowell is from South Carolina!

Now for the bad news. That number was actually 83% for the 2016 graduating year. It could certainly be a fluke, so we’re not going to judge. Dropouts have decreased over the last two years so that number could go back up again. 

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Worst: Louisiana

Louisiana is another state that’s drastically improved its education system. For the 2018 graduating year, they managed to get 81.4% of their students to graduation. Yes, that’s lower than the national average, but look at the previous years.

Not to throw numbers at you, but in 2011 was 71%, 2012 was 72%, 2013 was 74%, 2014 was 75%, 2015 was 78%, and 2016 was 79%. Do you see a trend? We do! Every year, the state gets better and better, so soon, they won’t be on the list at all.

Fun fact: Harry Connick Jr. called Louisiana home!

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Worst: Georgia

First, we went to congratulate Georgia on being able to pull off an 81.6% graduation rate. It’s lower than 88% (which is the national average), but we’re looking at the previous years, and wow! In the 2010-2011 school year, their graduation rate was a shockingly low 67%. That’s so awful that it was literally the worst graduation rate of the year (excluding D.C.).

With some hard work and determination, they managed to get their rates up to 81.6%. The good numbers keep on rolling as Georgia’s Department of Education reported that the rate is 82% for 2019. That’s an all-time high!

Fun fact: Jeff Foxworthy came from Georgia!

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Best: Missouri

Missouri is an odd one. Their graduation rank is currently 89.2%, which is certainly above the national average. In fact, Missouri has consistently ranked above the national average by at least a couple of points every year. However, something is lurking underneath. 

Missouri shouldn’t pat itself on the back just yet. NPR found that the state doesn’t require students to take Algebra II to graduate.  Furthermore, it doesn’t have a college and career-ready diploma. We can’t help but wonder what the stats would be if they did make students take Algebra II. 

Fun fact: Brad Pitt is from Missouri!

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Best: Arkansas

Arkansas has done a pretty good job staying above the curve as far as high school graduation rates are concerned. They’ve been above the national rate since 2010, and that trend isn’t going anywhere. The state puts a lot of emphasis on school.

For the last four years, Arkansas has been bouncing between 89% and 87%, with this year being 89.2%. As long as the state keeps putting education first, they may reach the top five before long. However, it wouldn’t hard for them to slip below the top 10, either. 

Fun fact: Bill Clinton is from Arkansas!

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Best: Wisconsin

Wisconsin has been making an active effort to improve its high school graduation rates, and it’s beginning to pay off. It saw a 1.6% increase in the past five years. Now, it’s all the way up to 89.7%. That’s pretty remarkable!

The Associated Press also found that there were improvements in small groups of students. One of the biggest gains is the English-language learners saw a 4.5% increase from the prior year and a total of 12.4% over the last five years.

Fun fact: Chris Noth called Wisconsin home!

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Best: Tennessee

Tennessee’s Board of Education was proud to admit last year that the graduation rate for the 2018-2019 school year is 89.7%. That’s half a percentage point higher than the previous year, and the highest graduation rate on record for the state! Overall, that’s a total of 183 extra students that completed high school.

Tennessee achieved this by actually having a number of schools with a graduation rate of 100%, including Huntingdon, South Carroll, Bradford, and Oneida school districts. In the last five years, Tennessee also never dropped below an 86% high school graduation rate. 

Fun fact: Reese Witherspoon came from Tennessee!

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Best: Alabama

At first, Alabama struggled to reach the national graduation rate, being on average 5% lower. However, the graduation rate rose much faster than the stats for the whole United States. The state proudly passed the nation in the 2013 school year, and it hasn’t let go of that record yet.

Now, Alabama’s graduation rate is a whopping 90%. The Alabama State Board of Education had the goal to reach 90% by 2020, but they managed to beat that by two years. Alabama also strictly measures college and career readiness, unlike some other states. 

Fun fact: Courtney Cox is from Alabama!

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Best: Texas

As time progresses, Texas students have begun graduating in higher numbers. During the Fall of 2016, the graduation rate was 89.1%, which is pretty good (and certainly above the national average). If you skip ahead to the Fall of 2019, that number jumps all the way up to 92.3%! That’s super high!

Since this percentage contains all four-, five-, six-, and seven-year extended rates, the national record is a little lower. This report only takes four-year graduation rates into account, so Texas made it to 90%. That’s still pretty good, though.

Fun fact: Matthew McConaughey is from Texas! 

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Best: West Virginia

For the last two years, West Virginia has managed to keep the graduation rate around 90%, landing into 90.2% for the 2018 school year. That’s also up from the previous year, which only managed to get 89.40%, according to West Virginia’s Board of Education.

According to WV’s Board of Education, West Virginia is one of the rare exceptions where the five-year graduation rate (90.7%) is lower than the four-year rate (91.4%). As these numbers continue, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the state break their 90% streak and enter into 91% (or higher). 

Fun fact: Jennifer Garner called West Virginia home!

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Best: New Jersey

The Press of Atlantic City was happy to report in 2017 that the number of high school grads has continued to grow year-over-year for six straight years. We’re happy to say that trend has kept going to the point where they had a 90.9% graduation rate in 2019.

If you include five-year graduation students, it’s even higher! They reach a 92.5% graduation rate, according to the New Jersey Board of Education. Many districts even achieved a 100% rate when they included five-year students.

Fun fact: Tom Cruise hails from New Jersey!

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Best: Kentucky

Kentucky is another state that hasn’t reported its high school graduation rates for every year to the Common Core Data project. It started in 2012 when the rate was 86%, which was higher than the national average at the time. In fact, they’ve been above the national average since they started reporting.

Today, that graduation rate is all the way up to 91.3%. There are certainly some schools that need a lot of work and are pulling the score down, but the state has done a great job educating students. Some claim students are trying harder, while others believe it’s a change in leadership.

Fun fact: George Clooney came from Kentucky!

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Best: Iowa

Iowa is the best state in the nation – as far as high school graduation stats go. Students in the state have proven to be some of the smartest as their rates have gone above and beyond every year for the last half-decade. This certainly isn’t the first time Iowa’s been top dog.

They’ve gotten 91.4% of students to graduate high school. Iowa’s Department of Education also reported the data for the 2019 school year, and the rate is going up! It’s now 91.6% for four-year graduates. If you look at five-year graduates, it bumps up to 93.5%. Iowa is raising some smart cookies. 

Fun fact: Ashton Kutcher is from Iowa!

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