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On-time graduation rate has climbed 20 points in a decade

By Paul Socolar on Mar 22, 2013 03:52 PM

(Click for larger image)


The forthcoming print edition, where this article will appear, comes out next week.

The School District’s on-time graduation rate has continued its upward trend. For a second year in a row, it climbed three percentage points last year – to 64 percent. That figure represents the percentage of students entering 9th grade in fall 2008 who finished high school by 2012.

From a dismal 44 percent on-time graduation rate in 2002, the percentage of District students graduating in four years has now grown by 20 percentage points in a decade.

District Assistant Superintendent Donna Runner attributed the gains to improved, standards-based instruction and better use of student data. Improvement has come “as teachers got better at utilizing instructional strategies to achieve the standards,” she said. And student-level data helped schools and teachers understand better “what barriers do individual students have to learning.”

The District monitors both four-year and six-year graduation rates. Many students do not complete high school on time but persist and graduate within a year or two of their peers. Gains in six-year graduation rates have been less dramatic. The most current available six-year rate – for first-time high school freshman from 2006 – is 64 percent.

Mayor Michael Nutter has prioritized the dropout issue since taking office; he set a target for a six-year graduation rate of 80 percent by 2014.

All these rates are called cohort graduation rates. Based on tracking individual students over time, they show the percentage of students who started 9th grade together and graduated four and six years later. The rates are adjusted for students who transferred out of the District.


Graphic by Joseph Kemp

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Comments (13)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 22, 2013 7:26 pm
The real test is life outcomes, not graduation rate. It's farily easy to increase graduation rate by simply lowering the standards for graduation or putting more pressure on schools to make sure credits are awarded. The real question is are the students graduating ready for either a job or college?
Submitted by reformer (not verified) on March 23, 2013 4:44 am
you couldn't be more correct. this growth in graduation rate is a distinction without a difference. post secondary school enrollment and completion numbers are far more indicative of high school success. how many go to and graduate from 4-year colleges is another relevant date point. does the increase ballyhooed in this article include charter schools? if so, what would the district's number be without them? this is news, but not enough of it to tell whether it's good or bad.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 23, 2013 7:52 pm
Exactly! Especially when you have principals changing students grades. Principals undermine teachers and give students grades that they did not earn. Who do they think they are helping? Not only does the student continue with poor work ethics, but we are graduating students who will become a burden to our society and hurt everyone.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on March 23, 2013 9:39 am
Hmmm, correlates closely with the proliferation of charter schools throughout the city. Maybe those profiteering privatizing get-rich-quick schemers are on to something...
Submitted by Paul Socolar on March 23, 2013 11:00 am

These rates are for District schools only. Next week, we'll be publishing rates for charters overall,  for individual schools, by zip code, and trends by race and gender. And articles on problems and promising practices in both District and charter schools.

No question that post-secondary enrollment and completion numbers are the gold standard for assessing HS success. But the mayor, the District and other civic leaders have prioritized making sure that most students earn a diploma within 6 years of starting high school, and the Notebook has committed to monitoring that. There's been some movement toward that goal ... in fact the increase in the on-time rate from 44 to 64% is pretty dramatic, but the increase in the 6-yr rate (from 56 to 64% over 8 years - there's a 2-yr lag in these numbers) works out to 1 percent a year.

As to the roles of various factors in the improvement - charter expansion, creation of small high schools, a standardized curriculum, credit recovery, accelerated high schools, early warning indicators and other Project U-Turn initiatives are all things that have happened since 2002. It's difficult to separate out the relative effects, but we may know more in the next year after a forthcoming study about dropout and graduation rates in Philadelphia.

Submitted by Rob (not verified) on March 23, 2013 1:08 pm
"Improvement has come “as teachers got better at utilizing instructional strategies to achieve the standards,” she said. And student-level data helped schools and teachers understand better “what barriers do individual students have to learning." She may make that conclusion, but I don't think this was a big factor. I think the idea of easy 'credit recovery' either online or a few days a week after school. After a student fails a class it is very easy to get credit for it by other means than retaking the class. Once a student discovers how easy credit recovery is,cthey fail the class and opt for the much easier version It is also true that many teachers don't fail kids either because it makes them look bad when 50% of the class fails, knows the kid may drop out, or does not want to do the extra paperwork necessary. I don't know that the district can raise academic standards and increase graduation rates at the same time. It will be interesting to see what happens in 2017 when students will need to pass the keystones to graduate high school.
Submitted by reformer (not verified) on March 23, 2013 6:17 pm
I don't think you can raise standards and graduation rates at the same time. over the last eight years we have been sold on the idea that the two things were happening simultaneously. i think it may be possible to do both at once, but it's not likely in the district.
Submitted by Annonyum (not verified) on March 24, 2013 5:54 am
If the current Keystone Exam is any indication, the majority of students will need the "alternative" assessment to graduate. We still haven't been told what the "alternative" will entail. Donna Runner is spouting the company line. Students that enter 9th grade 3 or more reading levels behind are not going to suddenly do well on the Keystone in either their sophomore or junior year of high school. Even the math, which is mostly Alg. 1 but includes some Alg 2, will be difficult but probably not as difficult as the English (which is still a reading test). Add to this biology ... 440 has not provided any supports whatsoever this year other than to tell us when we have to administer the exams. If the state wide results are low, I assume the Keystone will be "dumped down" so more pass. It is a vicious cycle which obviously does not consider how best to prepare students for college or career. The Keystone has no connection to college preparedness.
Submitted by About Ramadan (not verified) on September 9, 2013 10:26 am
Yesterday, while I was at work, my sister stole my iphone and tested to see if it can survive a 40 foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My apple ipad is now broken and she has 83 views. I know this is totally off topic but I had to share it with someone!
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on March 23, 2013 10:50 pm
It is a mirage. There is so much paper work involved that the path of least resistance is a D. Plus even when I flunk a kid he then goes to grade improvement for a couple of hours and viola the F becomes a D. We are teaching the youth of Philadelphia that the world is full a deadlines to missed and unlimited second chances. For some reason I think life with disabuse the students of this lesson within 2 months of graduation.
Submitted by Paul Socolar on March 23, 2013 11:50 pm

Has that changed dramatically since 2002?  Seems like I've been hearing this complaint from teachers about high school grading practices for as long as I can remember.

I'm not discounting your concern, just questioning whether flunking vs. not flunking students accounts for the 20 point increase in graduation rates.

Submitted by reformer (not verified) on March 25, 2013 7:57 am
do they still do "promotion packets" for failing hs students, that pack of worksheets that magically turns a 50 avg to passing. it sometimes works for even lower gradepoint averages. this stuff ruins entire neighborhoods.
Submitted by Edward Garcia (not verified) on March 25, 2013 11:21 am
If promotion packets was a widespread practice wouldn't the graduation rates be in the 80s. This news cannot be taken as anything but good news. It is of course not a the end all be all. There are a lot of variables that went into this including the proliferation of Afterschool supports, and the other factors that have already been mentioned. Glass is 64% full.

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