At last week’s Providence Grad Nation Summit, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT released their newest issue brief, “Improving High School Graduation Rates in Rhode Island,” which showed Cranston’s graduation rate had not only improved, but remained higher than the state average.
KIDS COUNT reported that the statewide graduation rate has been steadily increasing for a number of years, from 70 percent in 2007 to 77 percent for the class of 2012. Despite this increase, there are still disparities; the graduation rate for English language learners (66 percent), students with disabilities (59 percent), low-income students (66 percent) and other subgroups still remain lower than their peers.
In Cranston, the class of 2012 saw a graduation rate of 81 percent, with an 11 percent dropout rate, a 3 percent GED rate and only 6 percent of students staying in school longer than four years. The student population for the class of 2012 was 949 students.
Despite this success, Superintendent Judith Lundsten said the school district isn’t satisfied.
“We won’t be satisfied until we have done everything we can to ensure every youngster graduates,” she said in a phone interview Tuesday.
With Cranston’s graduation rate higher than the state’s average, it also increased the overall graduation rate in the city for the class of 2011, which was 77 percent.
Lundsten said she is pleased with the hard work her staff and students have put in to have such a successful graduation rate, and that the district will continue to work hard to improve it even more in the coming years by focusing on all students in the system, supporting the entire student population.
“They have to be reflective of kindergarten through 12,” said Lundsten, pointing out that the process of getting a student to their high school graduation begins on their first day of school. “It’s not just a high school issue.”
KIDS COUNT provided a list of warning signs that should be monitored to prevent students from making the choice to drop out of school. Their report says that making that decision is a long process and warning signs include reading below grade level at the end of grade three, poor course performance, an ongoing pattern of absenteeism or tardiness, multiple suspensions, and other behavioral problems. During the academic year 2011-2012, 1,867 high school students dropped out, along with 204 seventh- and eighth-graders.
Although there is no Rhode Island-based data, KIDS COUNT reported that nationwide pregnant or parenting students, students in foster care, students in the juvenile justice system, and homeless or runaway students are also more likely to drop out.
Lundsten said there are many factors that come into studying graduation rates and helping to ensure all students make it to the stage. One example Lundsten says the department monitors is absences.
“If they aren’t in school, we can’t teach them,” she said.
Graduation rates for the Class of 2007 on are calculated using a cohort formula. Using state-assigned student identification numbers, the number of students who graduate with a standard diploma in four years is divided by the total number of students in the same cohort who are entering ninth grade together, taking into account any students who left or came into the school district over the four years.
The RI KIDS COUNT issue brief also broke the graduation rate down by school for 2012.
Cranston High School East had a class of 462 students with a graduation rate of 78 percent, a dropout rate of 12 percent, a GED rate of 3 percent and only 5 percent of students staying longer than four years.
Cranston High School West saw the highest grad rate in the city with 87 percent of their 419 seniors graduating in four years as part of the class of 2012. Only 5 percent dropped out, 2 percent received GEDs and 6 percent remained in school over four years.
The report also provided data on the NEL/CPS Construction and Career Academy, whose class of 64 seniors in 2012 had a graduation rate of 61 percent, a dropout rate of 33 percent, a GED rate of 2 percent and 6 percent of students remaining in the school over four years.
“You have to be careful looking at cohorts,” pointed out Lundsten, adding that some of her administrators believe the graduation rates are higher in their individual schools than reported.
Looking forward, Lundsten and her team are providing as much intervention as possible to prepare both middle school and high school students for math state assessments.
“We’re very concerned about the math scores,” said Lundsten. “The biggest intervention at middle and high school is with math.”
She explained that there are options for help after school and over the summer for students who are struggling in math, as well as in-class support. She also said Algebra I is being taught to the ninth graders, providing additional intervention in the following years if they do poorly in the course.
She credited the school’s principals, staff and faculty with being incredibly dedicated to the success of the students. At the end of the day, Lundsten expresses the importance of a high school diploma for all students.
“At the end of the day, you need a high school diploma. You can’t get into the military without a diploma,” said Lundsten, referencing a report she has seen that referred to a pipeline system. “Without that diploma, the pipeline stops.”
KIDS COUNT recommended increased access to high quality early education programs, early warning signs tracking, preparing students to transition to high school, closing achievement gaps and providing multiple pathways to graduation (accelerated programs, online instruction, partnerships with adult education programs, etc.) as possible recommendations to improve graduation rates further.
According to the brief, individuals with a high school diploma are more likely to be employed with a higher income than individuals who don’t. Those without a high school diploma are also more likely to live in poverty, receive public assistance, be involved in criminal activity, have poor physical or emotional health, and have a shorter lifespan.