The Confusing Subject of Graduation Rates
One of the most reported statistics in education is a community’s high school graduation rate. Each year the number is published and discussed in the news and in the community. As an example, last year New Britain had a graduation rate of 75.3 percent, which was an increase from 70 percent the previous year, and up from 55.7 percent just five years ago. But what exactly does a graduation rate mean? Even for those involved in politics and education, graduation rates can be a confusing number. Many people believe it is just a reflection of how many twelve grade seniors who entered school at the start of the year graduated at the end of year. But it is much more than that.
To understand graduation rates you first need to understand what a “graduation cohort” means. This year, freshmen entering NBHS for the first time were placed in the “2020 cohort”. That means, that they are expected, if they stay on track, to graduate in the year 2020, four years after they entered high school. Currently our 2020 cohort has roughly 600 students, rounded up. Out of these 600 students, imagine, somewhere in the next four years, 90 fall a year behind in their studies. Imagine another 30 dropped out of high school completely and another 30 moved to another state or out of the country.
Now, in 2020 we have 450 students who graduate from the original cohort. Based on how the state calculates a graduation rate, we would have a 75 percent graduation rate. Even if those 90 students went on to graduate the following year they would not be considered to have “graduated”. And if we can’t track and prove that the 30 students who moved enrolled and graduated somewhere else those are counted against us as well. Even if a student who drops out of high school enters adult education and graduates by 2020 we don’t get credit for them either. Essentially, according to the State, graduating only matters if you do it in four years.
This practice is unfair to those students who work hard and persevere despite difficulty. Students who need an extra year to graduate should not be forgotten, which is why many communities are pushing to have a five year graduation rate included in state reporting.
Just how big of a problem are we talking about? Currently in New Britain there are 65 students from the 2016 cohort, last year’s class, still enrolled as seniors. If those 65 students graduated this year that would push our five-year graduation rate at well over 85 percent. Currently, 84 members of the 2017 cohort, which should be seniors, are classified as juniors. Again, this makes up close to 15 percent of the class cohort. These are not insignificant numbers.
Obviously as we continue to improve our district we want to decrease the number of students who fall behind and graduate with their four-year cohort. But we also should give credit to those students who do persevere and continue to work hard despite the obstacles they face.