Grad rates hit record high

9/21/2017

Tennessee posted its highest ever graduation rate on record in the 2016-17 school year after years of steady improvement.

The state saw 89.1 percent of all high school students graduate from its districts, Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced.

Overall, the graduation rate has increased 3.6 percentage points since the 2010-11 school year, according to a news release. This year, graduation rates increased in nearly 56 percent of districts with high schools.

“Teachers and educators in Tennessee have worked tirelessly to support students and these record graduation rates show their hard work is making a difference,” Haslam said in a statement.

“As more students graduate from high school, we are committed to helping them go to college, succeed and become skilled members of Tennessee’s workforce. The graduation rate is reflective of the many gains we are making in education in our state.”

Tennessee’s high school graduation rate in 2015-16 increased a point — to 88.5 percent of all students.

The 2016-17 graduation rates follow that upward improvement. Notably:

» 13 districts improved graduation rates by 5 percentage points or more.

» The district with the most significant gains was Lake County, up 23.1 percentage points over last year.

» 43 districts have graduation rates at or above 95 percent, up from 36 districts last year.

Tennessee is working to better track the readiness of the students that are graduating. McQueen said teachers and students statewide should be proud of their work.

“Now we must focus on ensuring students are fully prepared for the academic and professional opportunities that come after high school graduation, so graduates can truly use their diplomas to seamlessly move into their next step,” she said.

Mixed results in large-sized school districts

Shelby and Hamilton county schools made significant progress over last year’s graduation rates.

Shelby County Schools officials celebrated the increase, which is the fourth year in the row the district has seen improvements. Three of its schools recorded a 100-percent graduation rate and 18 schools saw a rate of more than 85 percent, according to the district.

“While we recognize we still have lots of hard work to do to achieve our goal of 90 percent on-time graduation by 2025, we’re very proud that our hardworking educators continue to move our students in the right direction and prepare them for life after graduation,” the district said in a statement.

But Metro Nashville and Knox county schools saw small declines in their graduation rates that remained mostly stagnant year over year.

Metro Schools acknowledged the dip and said it is combing over where the slip occurred.

“Metro Schools has significantly increased its graduation rate over the years by offering a variety of programs and supports to meet our students’ unique needs,” district spokeswoman Michelle Michaud said. “We will continue to offer opportunities and support to assist our students in their journey to high school graduation and college and career readiness.”

Knox County Schools spokeswoman Carly Harrington said the graduation rate has held steady for years and the focus continues to be in the rigor of its academic programs.

The Achievement School District, which has 34 mostly charter-operated schools in Memphis and Nashville, remained near the bottom in terms of graduation rates but posted double-digit gains. The special state district serves some of the lowest performing schools in the state.

The ASD had the third largest gain of any district — 12.8 percentage points — to a graduation rate of 53.2 percent.

School districts above the state average

More than 100 of the state’s 130 districts with high school graduation data excelled past the state average.

Alcoa City Schools, a small school district near Knoxville with 139 seniors last year, again posted one of the highest graduation rates in the state at 98.6 percent. With such a small and tight-knit community, the goal is always 100 percent, said Brian Bell, Alcoa superintendent.

“We tell every student they are going to graduate, and we do that without lowering any standards,” Bell said. “Obviously I am super proud.”

In Middle Tennessee, three area districts posted the highest graduation marks in the region — Wilson County Schools at 96.2 percent, Robertson County Schools at 96.9 percent and Williamson County Schools at 95.6 percent.

Wilson County Schools starts intervention for at-risk students in middle school, keeping more students on track, said Jennifer Johnson, district spokeswoman.

“Our graduation coaches at each high school began reaching out to those students earlier, forming relationships, mentoring them,” Johnson said. “Over time, this has proven very successful.”

And Williamson County continues to show progress, said Charles Farmer, assistant superintendent of secondary schools.

“We recognize there is still an opportunity to support a small segment of each school’s senior cohort as they work to meet all the state’s graduation requirements. I am confident that through the work of our administrators and staffs that we will continue to make gains in graduation rate,” Farmer said.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by JASON GONZALES

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