Thursday, December 10, 2015

Tacoma's Grad Rate at 85.6% - 5th Straight Year of Gains

I have no comment except WOW.  To note, SPS former chief academic officer, Carla Santorno, is the superintendent of Tacoma PS.  (I want an interview.)

Here's the press release from Tacoma Public Schools Communications (bold mine):

TACOMA, Wash.—Tacoma’s graduation rate for the Class of 2015 reached 82.6 percent – the highest since the state began officially tracking the statistic in 2003 and the fifth straight year of gains, according to data submitted to the state by Tacoma Public Schools.

“Part of me wants to immediately reiterate that we have not yet reached our goal,” said School Board President Scott Heinze. “But the best part of me wants to commend the elbow grease applied by educators throughout Tacoma whose relentless dedication to their students has paid off so profoundly in just a handful of years.”

Heize presided over the official unveiling of the 2015 graduation rate at a short celebratory ceremony today at Gray Middle School where students from the Class of 2020 (current 8th graders) participated in front of district staff and community leaders.

After the release of the 2012 graduation data, the School Board set a bold goal – graduate 85 percent of Tacoma students by 2020. How bold? Consider that in 2007 a national researcher labeled all Tacoma’s comprehensive high schools as “dropout factories” in a news story published across the country. And as recently as 2010, Tacoma high schools graduated 55 percent of students. 

“What gets measured gets done,” said Superintendent Carla Santorno. “When we talk graduation rates, we talk about a lot of numbers. But what really hits me the most—what really moves me—is that every decimal point we improve means another student whose life we have reset on a new trajectory of success, not just in school but in life.”

Santorno praised the leadership of high school principals, the hard work of teachers and guidance counselors and the support of caring staff members at all grade levels throughout the district for looking out for “every student, every day.”
The final 2015 graduation report, sent by the district to the Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction (OSPI), included the following notable achievements:

Tacoma’s 82.6 percent rate for 2015 exceed the 2014 statewide average graduation rate of 77.2 percent by a record 5.4 percent.
The 2015 districtwide dropout rate continued a multi-year downward trend by falling to 10.5 from 14.3 percent in 2014.
Students considered low-income because they qualify for free or reduced-price school meals saw their graduation rate increase from 70.9 percent in 2014 to 76.8 percent in 2015.
The graduation rate for special education students rose again from 45.9 percent in 2013 to 56.3 percent in 2014 to 59.7 percent in 2015.
The extended, 5-year graduation rate for the Class of 2014 reached 82.5 percent.

Closing “graduation gaps” remains a strategic priority set by the School Board—and the 2015 graduation statistics provided a second-straight year of notable gains.

Graduation rates went up over 2014 for nearly every racial demographic:
Black (+6.2%)
Hispanic (+13.1%)
Native American (+3.2)
Pacific Islander (+11.4%)
Multi-ethnic (+25.2%)
White (+2%).

Only the Asian demographic group—which recorded the highest graduation rate in 2014—dipped slightly.

Yet for the first-time ever, Hispanic, Black, Pacific Islander and Multi-ethnic students graduated at 80 percent or better.

And, profoundly, the graduation gap between White students and Hispanic and Black students narrowed to less than four percentage points. Even among Tacoma’s poorest students—the roughly 60 percent who receive free or reduced-price lunch—the graduation rate has jumped from just 61.2 percent in 2013 to 70.9 percent in 2014 and, in 2015, 76.8 percent.

“For all the people in Tacoma and across the country who say students of poverty and students of color in urban school districts will never make it, I will tell you that in Tacoma the numbers prove otherwise,” Board President Heinze said. “We have virtually eliminated some persistent, historic graduation gaps.

“When our School Board members made equity a key element of our district strategic plan, Superintendent Santorno and her team and principals and teachers across the district have embraced it,” Heinze said. “Can we do more? Sure we can, and we will.”
A snapshot of the three-year demographic trend – 2013 to 2015 – shows graduation rates have gone up for every group:

Three-year Graduation Trends
Demographic Group
Native American
Pacific Islander
“Our Board of Directors has led us a long, long way,” Santorno said. “Not only did they set the goal, they followed it up with a series of insightful policies to increase the rigor of high school coursework; eliminate fees for SAT, PSAT and Advanced Placement tests; and established a new process for us to create more innovative schools.

“OSPI already has recognized Tacoma Public Schools as the most innovative district in Washington for our portfolio of options for students. We are now seeing the results that come along with those innovations,” Santorno said.
Three-year Graduation Trends
Graduation Rate By High School
1-year Difference
3-year Trend
Mount Tahoma
Science and Math Institute
School of the Arts


Anonymous said...

What do you make of this information, from the Tacoma Tribune article, covering this statistic, "They note that the introduction of programs such as the Willie Stewart Academy, which opened during the 2013-14 school year, artificially pump up graduation rates by moving some of Tacoma’s most struggling students out of mainstream schools. By state definition, graduation figures from the academy aren’t calculated in school or district statistics.

District spokesman Dan Voelpel said Tacoma looked at whether including numbers from the academy would alter the graduation rate for 2015, and found it would drop by about 3.5 percent. But he said districts across the state that have started similar programs are playing by the same rules."

I think that a 3.5% drop in the graduation rate is significant, and that school districts are finding increasingly creative ways to make themselves look better this way. It is hard to tell if there is real change going on or not. Just because other districts do this does not mean that there is any real progress in a district from one year to the next if they can decide to drop the statistics of a group of students who would lower the whole district by 3.5%. The state should look at this as it incentivizes school districts to push children into schools with much lower academic outcomes.


Anonymous said...

This seemed a little strange, so I looked for information about Willie Stewart Academy. http://www.tacoma.k12.wa.us/schools/reengagement/pages/default.aspx

It's a reengagement school for "Students who are between the ages of 17 and 21 and who are significantly credit deficient" Because of the age range, it seems that the students have probably already been counted as not graduating in some previous year, and that is why the state says reengagement schools shouldn't be counted (again) in district rates.


Melissa Westbrook said...

GL, I have not yet read that article; thanks for the heads up.

Anonymous said...

The Tacoma Tribune article is a little odd in that it states "Critics of the district question whether the gains are exclusively the result of hard work on the part of teachers and students, or whether there’s statistical trickery going on."

The article doesn't identify the "critics of the district", or say what the critics think the school district should be doing or what they think the district is doing wrong (other than following state guidelines for calculating graduation rates).

The article does say that the school district attributes their success to keeping better track of how kids are doing, creating a "college-going culture", and getting help from the community and local colleges for tutoring, mentoring, and helping to meet the kids' basic needs like clothing and school supplies.


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