A new study shows the national graduation rate stands at 78%, the highest it has been since 1976.
So where does Alabama rank?
Until now, the state's graduation rate was also climbing, but not anymore.
Education officials say there's only one reason it's beginning to fall.
Up until last year each state had it's own way of calculating graduation rates.
But recently governors for all 50 states agreed to use the same formula nationwide.
That formula tracks a high school student from the first day of 9th grade until they walk across the graduation stage.
"Prior to the 2010-2011 year, students were determined graduates just by looking at their 12th grade year. But with the cohort now we're looking at four years worth of information," says Dr. Marilyn Lewis with the State Department of Education.
She says the new formula is commonly called the "cohort."
Because it tracks a student for four years, educators can monitor trends noticed during that time.
"Possibly when are they getting into credit problems or behavioral problems, or attendance problems," adds Lewis.
Lewis believes recognizing these factors early could help prevent students from dropping out of school.
There are advantages to the new cohort formula. It's more comprehensive--painting a clearer picture of which students graduated, which ones didn't and why.
It accounts for students who moved in and out of the state system.
The downside is the state's overall graduation rate declined the first year the formula was used--from 87% to 72%.
Up until that point, the rate had been steadily increasing.
Officials say not to worry, though, the drop is simply due to the formula change and could help the department in a few years.
"Everything can't be about just a number...we have to look at those children," adds Lewis.
State officials have not been able to compare their new cohort graduation rate with other states simply because many haven't used the formula yet.
They're expected to implement it at the end of this school year.
There have been talks of including a formula for students who finish high school in five years.
Right now administrators admit those students are falling through the cracks.
Copyright 2013 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.