Local: Education

D.C. graduation rate falls to 59% under new calculations

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Local,Education,Lisa Gartner

The District's graduation rate fell to 59 percent in 2011 as school officials adopted a more rigorous and accurate method of calculating the figure.

About 53 percent of students graduated within four years from D.C. Public Schools, and 80 percent graduated on time from the city's public charter schools, using the federally required "cohort" graduation rate, which tracks students starting in the ninth grade to get a more accurate figure. Discluding alternative high schools, DCPS' graduation rate was about 61 percent.

Previously, the District and many other states used the "leaver" method, which included students who took more than four years to graduate and did not track students from freshman year onward. Under those calculations, 76 percent of District students graduated in 2010: The rate was 73 percent for DCPS and 87 percent for charters.

Top 5 schools
SchoolSystem2010 graduation rate (old standard)2011 graduation rate (new standard)
Benjamin Banneker Academic High SchoolDCPS (magnet)95.5%100%
McKinley Technology High SchoolDCPS (magnet)91.7%93.68%
School Without Walls Senior High SchoolDCPS (magnet)93.1%92.86%
Duke Ellington School of the ArtsDCPS (magnet)96.4%91.67%
Washington Mathematics, Science, & Technology Public Charter High SchoolCharter98.7%91.3%
Worst 5 schools
SchoolSystem2010 graduation rate (old standard)2011 graduation rate (new standard)
Cardozo Senior High SchoolDCPS66.8%39.93%
Anacostia Senior High SchoolDCPS57.8%42.06%
William E. Doar Jr. Public Charter SchoolChartern/a42.11%
Maya Angelou Public Charter School (Shaw campus)82.9%42.11%
Roosevelt Senior High SchoolDCPS55.2%46.03%
Source: Office of the State Superintendent for Education

"For years, we've known that our graduation rates did not accurately reflect our successes and our challenges with our high school students," DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson said. "With the new calculations, we have a clearer understanding of the work we still need to do, and the public has a more reliable way to hold us accountable."

Because the old rate was a more generous formula, the Maryland suburbs also saw their rates drop when they adopted the new methodology in 2011. Montgomery County achieved an 86.2 percent graduation rate in 2011 using the new calculations, and said the figure would have been 90.7 percent -- the highest rate since 2006 -- under the former method. Prince George's had an 84.27 percent graduation rate under the old formula in 2010, which became 76.2 percent under the new formula in 2011. Similar drops hit Virginia districts when they adopted the new standard in 2010.

What District officials say is surprising -- and promising -- is that the District's graduation rate did not fall as much as predicted. A January report from Education Week projected that the District would have a 43 percent graduation rate after switching calculation methods.

Brandon Frazier, a spokesman for the Office of the State Superintendent for Education, said Education Week used 2008 data to create their estimates, and that "perhaps we are getting better." Education Week did not respond to a phone call seeking comment.

Across the District, graduation rates ranged from 40 percent at Cardozo Senior High School to 100 percent at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School. DCPS magnet schools held the top four spots, followed by Washington Mathematics, Science, & Technology Public Charter High School.

Charter school officials said their 80 percent graduation rate "approaches the rates of neighboring, affluent suburbs such as Fairfax and Montgomery County Public Schools."

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown said he hoped the District kept an eye on whether graduates were actually college- or career-ready, but was "pleased to see that the District's graduation rate of 58.5 percent exceeded the 43 percent ... estimated rate release in January. This is a promising sign that if we continue to raise expectations for our students, they will rise and meet them."

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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