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Montgomery County concedes nation's top graduation rate to rival Fairfax

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Fairfax County Public Schools beat out local rival Montgomery County for the highest graduation rate among the country's 50 largest school districts, according to a report released Thursday.

After four consecutive years at the top of the list in Education Week's annual "Diplomas Count" report, Montgomery County Public Schools' graduation rate for the class of 2010 dropped 4 percentage points from last year's report to 84 percent, tying for second with Baltimore County Public Schools. Fairfax County Public Schools slid 1 percentage point to 85 percent.

"It is disappointing we are not first on this list, but I am pleased we are among the nation's best-performing districts, and I am confident our graduation rate is headed in the right direction," said Montgomery schools Superintendent Joshua Starr.

But in Fairfax County, School Board member Elizabeth Schultz called the rank at the top a "dubious honor," given that the school system's graduation rate dropped.

Top of the class
Large school district rankings
Rank District Class of 2010 graduation rate
1 Fairfax County 85 percent
2 Baltimore County 84 percent
2 Montgomery County 84 percent
7 Prince William County 79 percent
16 Anne Arundel County 76 percent
35 Baltimore 65 percent
43 Prince George's County 62 percent
State rankings
Rank State 2010 graduation rate
1 Vermont 85 percent
17 Maryland 79 percent
22 Virginia 77 percent
51 District of Columbia 57 percent
  National average 75 percent
Source: Education Week "Diplomas Count" report

"Our goal should never be looking sideways at our peers and making sure we don't do as poorly or do better than they in their backward slide," she said. "Are we going to be celebrated for being No. 1? Yes, but I don't want to lose sight of the fact that we lost ground."

Prince William County Public Schools' graduation rate climbed for the second year in a row to 79 percent and now ranks seventh nationally, while Prince George's County Schools' rate declined for the second year in a row to 62 percent, ranking 43rd out of 50.

On the state level, Maryland's graduation rate saw a small uptick, from 77.9 percent to 78.6 percent, while Virginia's also rose, from 76 percent to 77.5 percent. The two states ranked 17th and 22nd, respectively.

Although the District saw a nearly 5 percentage point increase in its graduation rate -- and a 14-point climb from the class of 2008 -- it continued to rank last among the states with 57 percent of students graduating. By comparison, Baltimore graduated 65 percent of its students. The national average was 74.7 percent.

Education Week uses the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education, which is for the class of 2010. It calculates the graduation rates by looking not only at the portion of students graduating from the 12th grade but also at the portion of high school students progressing onto the next grade. As a result, the rates offered in the report function in part as an estimate of how many students will graduate this year. They also differ -- often significantly -- from the graduation rates reported by the school districts.

"Our graduation rate has been going up for the last three years according to the adjusted cohort rate [a measure that tracks students starting in the ninth grade], which is widely considered the best graduation rate you can get," said Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman Dana Tofig, indicating an 87.4 percent graduation rate.

Still, he added, "the bottom line is we have to continue to strive to serve all students until the graduation rate's 100 percent."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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Rachel Baye

Staff Writer - Education
The Washington Examiner