New tracking system shows troubling graduation rates for minority students

Two of every five Hispanic high school freshmen fail to graduate on time from Connecticut’s public high schools, part of a bleak record of graduation rates among minority students, state officials said Tuesday.

Overall, about one of five freshmen who entered high school in 2005 failed to graduate four years later, according to a new student tracking system designed to give a more accurate picture of trends among the state’s 565,000 public school students.

The graduation report – the first ever done under the new system – found worse graduation rates than the state had reported in previous years.

“For black and Hispanic students, the rates are alarming,” said state Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan.

graduation rates

Just 58 percent of Hispanic students and 66 percent of black students finished high school on time, the new figures showed. The rate was worse, just 53 percent, for students from non-English speaking families.

Girls were more likely to finish school than boys were, graduating at an 83 percent rate, compared with 76 percent for boys.

McQuillan is backing efforts to keep more high school students in school, including several bills pending before the state legislature. Among those bills are proposals to revamp high school education, including the addition of mentoring programs, online classes and other support for students.

In Connecticut, the new student tracking system can be used not only for calculating graduation rates but has the potential to be used for more accurate measurements of academic growth, attendance, discipline, teacher performance, student mobility and other key trends.

The State Department of Education began collecting data on individual students five years ago, assigning each student a unique identifying number, making it easier to track student progress from year to year and to follow students who transfer to other public schools.

Previously, the state had relied on school districts to report aggregate data that often contained inaccuracies or did not account for all transfers. “Kids were able, in essence, to fall through the cracks,” said Sarah Ellsworth, chief of the education department’s Bureau of Data Collection, Research and Evaluation.

Exact comparisons to earlier graduation rates are difficult to make because the earlier figures included students who graduated after spending five years in high school, said Tom Murphy, a spokesman for the education department. For the Class of 2008, that five-year rate was 92 percent. Tuesday’s report lists the four-year graduation rate for the Class of 2009 as 79 percent, but the figure increases to about 86 percent when it includes students who remained in school more than four years.

The state also did not break down graduation data on the basis of race, ethnicity, income or gender before the new system was implemented.

The new data collection system was created as Connecticut and other states signed an agreement with the National Governors Association (NGA) to create a uniform method of reporting high school graduation rates.

In 2005, a commission of the governors association issued a report calling for an overhaul of the way states report graduation rates. The governors said there was little uniformity among the states and that most states produced grossly inaccurate, misleading and inflated graduation statistics.

All 50 states signed an agreement with NGA to use a uniform formula for calculating graduation rates.

The formula requires schools to record the number of incoming freshmen and compare that to the number of graduating seniors four years later, taking into account the number of transfers into and out of schools. About half the states have issued graduation reports using that formula, said Bridget Curran, an NGA program director.

Like Connecticut, many other states have begun using more sophisticated methods of collecting data, including systems that track individual students, Curran said.