Central Massachusetts Schools with the Highest Graduation Rates
Saturday, February 01, 2014
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released its 2013 graduation report this week for all public schools and districts in the Commonwealth.
Across the United States, high school graduation rates hit a 40-year peak last year.
Statewide in Massachusetts, graduation rates improved for the seventh year in a row, with fully 85 percent of students obtaining a high school diploma in four years. That rate has increased a sizable 5.1 percentage points since 2006.
Worcester, local schools follow positive trend
Graduation rates were similarly up in the Worcester Public Schools.
“The trend for Worcester is favorable, and certainly the success that's been made reflects a number of programs that have been put in place,” said school committee member Brian O'Connell.
The number of Worcester students graduating in four years was 73.4 percent: an increase of more than 6 percentage points since 2006. Superintendent Melinda Boone said in a written statement the graduation rates showed the district was moving in the right direction.
Comparing student groups, schools, and districts
Worcester's graduation numbers were well above the closest-sized district in the state — Springfield, which recorded a 54.9 percent rate — and in line with most other districts with a student population over 10,000.
Districtwide in Worcester, low income, high needs, and English language learners all graduated at a rate above 70 percent.
But rates between schools ranged widely. The University Park Campus School saw every student in its small senior cohort graduate last year, while North High and South High had 65.2 and 64.7 percent graduation rates, respectively.
That South High rate was a slight dip from 2012, but North High increased nearly 8 percentage points.
Another positive: The percent of annualized adjusted “dropouts” leaving the system declined in most Worcester schools, including full percentage point drops at both North High and South High.
The largest, most urban district in the region, WPS graduation rates were generally lower than its neighbors, including Wachusett (91.6 percent), Leominster (89.9), and Shrewsbury (92.8). But nearby Fitchburg had a 71.6 percent graduation rate in 2013, partially spurred by its high dropout rates.
“As an urban system the information moving forward is good news but lots more has to be done,” said John Monfredo, the school committee's vice-chair and a GoLocal MINDSETTER. “This issue has been on the forefront with school committee members and with administration. The very first time that I ran as a school committee member reducing the dropout rate was one of my agenda items.”
Monfredo said he supported recent legislation that would raise the age at which students can choose to drop out, from 16 to 18. “As a state and as a nation we continue to get 'hit' with a high price tag due to a high school dropout rate.”
“To keep students graduating, you have to keep them in school,” said O'Connell. Both O'Connell and Monfredo pointed to an effective intervention initiative that targeted at-risk students early on in the elementary grades. The early warning system looks at indicators like attendance and academics to provide students with better supports sooner so they're not frustrated by the time they reach middle school.
Meanwhile, high school-level programs have worked at the same time to assist and keep students in school, and help dropouts come back to earn a degree. “The combination is working out well for us,” O'Connell said.
90 percent graduation targeted
Monfredo points to various costs associated with high school dropouts, related to health, crime, and earning potential.
In a 2003 study, University of California, Berkley economist Enrico Moretti and University of Western Ontario economist Lance Lochner estimated that a 1 percent increase in male high school graduation rates would have the social savings of up to $1.4 billion associated with crime reduction.
In an interactive calculator on the Alliance for Excellent Education's website, using 2012 data, the economic benefits of raising the Commonwealth's graduation rates to a 90 percent target equaled $84 million in increased annual earnings and $13 million in annual state and local tax revenues.
In the Worcester metropolitan area, the Alliance estimated an additional $9.5 million in new annual earnings.
O'Connell acknowledged both moral and financial obligations to seeking increasing graduation rates. In terms of the 90 percent target, “it's an important goal, and I'd like to think it's an achievable goal,” he said.
Under debate: How much preparation is a diploma?
In a written release, Education Secretary Matthew Malone called a high school diploma a “necessity for anyone hoping to live the American dream.”
Pointing to “another year of great progress,” Gov. Deval Patrick in the same release called investments in education “the single best way to prepare our young people for work and life.”
So are they prepared?
“I would say we don't know,” said Robert Rothman, a senior fellow at the Alliance for Excellent Education. Part of a coalition working toward a national 90 percent graduation rate by 2020, “Massachusetts seems on track for that target,” Rothman said. At the moment, however, a diploma simply means a student took a certain number of courses and received a satisfactory score on a state test. “That doesn't say whether a student is ready for college.”
“As for our students being prepared for college and for the workforce ... I would say most are ready and some need additional services,” Monfredo said.
“It's a concern to me in Worcester, but it's also a concern nationally,” responded O'Connell, who said improving readiness would involve setting a higher bar for students — but one that can be achieved.
Rothman said Common Core State Standards were intended to be that “higher bar”.
“The new Common Core standards are intended to address that question,” he said.
Related Slideshow: Central Mass Schools with the Highest Graduation Rates
Non-grad completers: Students that have successfully completed school according to local requirements, but whose MCAS test scores (scores lower than 220) prevent them from receiving an official diploma.
Students in cohort: Number of students eligible to graduate in 2013.
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