The current debate over graduate rate calculations and results has glossed over the relationship between student migration and the accuracy of various graduation rates proposed over the past five years. Three general grade-based graduation rates have been proposed recently, and each has a parallel version that includes an adjustment for migration, whether international, internal to the U.S., or between different school sectors. All of the adjustment factors have a similar form, allowing simulation of estimates from real data, assuming different unmeasured net migration rates. In addition, a new age-based graduation rate, based on mathematical demography, allows the simulation of estimates on a parallel basis using data from Virginia's public schools.
Both the direct analysis and simulation demonstrate that graduation rates can only be useful with accurate information about student migration. A discussion of Florida's experiences with longitudinal cohort graduation rates highlights some of the difficulties with the current status of the oldest state databases and the need for both technical confidence and definitional clarity. Meeting the No Child Left Behind mandates for school-level graduation rates requires confirmation of transfers and an audit of any state system for accuracy, and basing graduation rates on age would be a significant improvement over rates calculated using grade-based data.