March 17 — 4:36 pm, 2009

District graduation rates show an upward trend

gradrates2 0 Photo: Source: School District of Philadelphia Office of Accountability

Philadelphia public schools have seen growth in the overall graduation rate over the past three years. But the rate is still low.

For the students who started in Philadelphia high schools in 2004 – or the class of 2008 – the four-year graduation rate of 58.7 percent was almost 10 points higher than the rate for the class of 2006.

Earlier this decade, the percentage of District students graduating in four years was hovering in the high 40s, according to the 2005 report Unfulfilled Promise by researchers Ruth Curran Neild and Robert Balfanz.

How are the rates determined?

States and districts use a number of different methods for measuring graduation rates. The rates in this graph are called cohort graduation rates. They are based on tracking individual students over time. They show the percentage of students who started ninth grade together that had graduated four, five, or six years later. The rates are adjusted for students who transferred out of the District.

The federal government now requires states to use a method such as a cohort rate that compares the number of graduates in a year to the number of students who started high school four years earlier.

The District tracks five- and six-year graduation rates, because many students do not complete high school in four years but do persist until graduation within a year or two of their peers. For the first time in recent Philadelphia history, a class – the class of 2007 – graduated more than 60 percent of its members, a figure they reached after five years. The class of 2008 appears likely to exceed that threshold as well.  

To reach Mayor Michael Nutter’s goal of cutting Philadelphia’s dropout rate in half by 2014, the overall graduation rate will have to approach 80 percent. (Click on the chart below to enlarge it.)

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