Washington News

Seattle Post-Intelligencer
September 14, 2004

Only Two-Thirds of State's Students Graduate on Time: Seattle's Rate in 2003 Slightly Worse than 2002

By GREGORY ROBERTS, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter

More than a third of the Washington state students who entered public high school as freshmen in the class of 2003 failed to graduate on time in four years, a rate unchanged from 2002, a state education official said yesterday.

In Seattle, the state's largest school district, almost half of those freshmen failed to get a diploma in four years, a performance slightly worse than in Seattle's class of 2002, according to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. The 2003 numbers are the latest available.

Of the entering freshmen in the class of 2003 statewide, 24.3 percent dropped out of school over the next four years while another 10 percent were still in school but had not earned a diploma on time, OSPI administrator Pete Bylsma told the state Academic Achievement and Accountability Commission. The other 65.7 percent graduated on time.

In Seattle, the cumulative drop-out rate for the class of 2003 was 28.5 percent, with 21.3 percent of the class continuing in high school beyond their scheduled graduation. The on-time graduation rate in Seattle was 50.2 percent for 2003, down from 53.2 percent in 2002.

Of Seattle's 10 comprehensive high schools, Ballard, Franklin, Garfield, Nathan Hale and Roosevelt high schools recorded on-time graduation rates of 83 percent to 86 percent. The others were at 71 percent or below.

Statewide, students of Asian or Pacific Islander heritage in the class of 2003 recorded the highest on-time graduation rate, 71 percent, trailed by white students at 69.7 percent. On the other side of the "achievement gap," Hispanic students graduated on time at a rate of 49.5 percent, black students at 48.3 percent and American Indian students at 41.8 percent.

The graduation rate for every one of those groups was up from 2002, Bylsma said. But because a larger percentage of students in the class of 2003 were Hispanic, black or American Indian, the overall rate did not increase.

The overall dropout rate for the class declined from 27.7 percent in 2002 to 24.3 percent in 2003, a 3.4 percent drop, Bylsma said. The percentage of continuing students increased by the same amount, from 6.6 percent to 10 percent. Officials were unable to say how many of the continuing students eventually earn a diploma.

"What I'm excited about is the dropout rate has gone down for every group and the graduation rate has gone up for every group," state superintendent Terry Bergeson said.

Calculations of dropout and graduation rates can be confusing, because various methods are applied by different groups, and because one organization may change methods over time. OSPI, for example, has changed its methods, with the result that its "official" graduation rate has been adjusted downward in the last couple of years.

The 2003 rate is an estimate based on statistical deductions from historical data, Bylsma said. A new state system that tracks individual students recently went into effect, and actual numbers on the rates should be available with the graduation of last year's freshmen, the first class tagged by that system, he said.

The graduation rate is included in calculations by the federal government to determine if a high school, district or the state clears the performance hurdle set under the No Child Left Behind law, the sweeping education reform that imposes increasingly severe penalties for coming up short. The 2002 graduation rate was adopted as the threshold until 2014, when it jumps to 85 percent. Because state officials rounded up to 66 percent in establishing that benchmark, the state fell short of the goal in 2003. The commission is considering changes to the graduation-rate threshold for purposes of No Child Left Behind.

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