One out of every nine Connecticut high school freshmen don’t graduate high school in four years, graduation rates released Wednesday by the State Department of Education show.

While the  overall graduation rate for 2018-19 edged up slightly — by 0.2% — from the class of 2017-18 – 88.3% to 88.5% – success varied dramatically across districts and student groups.

Graduation rates vastly different, by district wealth

Students enrolled in well off districts boast the highest graduation rates compared to those attending schools in impoverished communities. For example, while nearly every student in Farmington graduated on time, only three out of every four students in Hartford did.

Students from low-income families strive in some districts, struggle in others

Students from low-income families graduated at much higher rates in some districts — generally districts without concentrated poverty.

For example, 97% of low-income students enrolled in New Fairfield graduated on time compared to 74% in nearby Danbury. Many wealthy districts have too few students from poor homes enrolled in their schools to report the differential rates. That includes Westport, Wilton and Ridgefield.

Outcomes bleak for homeless and children in foster care

Among the 42,000 students in the Class of 2019 were 436 children in foster care. Half of them — 218 children who were in state custody – didn’t graduate with their class.

Only three-quarters of the homeless students in the state graduated on time.

Connecticut has long had some of the worst-in-the-nation gaps in achievement between students groups. With Wednesday’s release, the size of the gaps in graduation rates between Connecticut’s poor students and their wealthier peers remains unchanged. However, both groups saw their graduation rates increase slightly since last year.

Albeit tiny, Gov. Ned Lamont celebrated the increase when releasing the new information: “Achieving a record-high graduation rate is a sign that we are headed in the right direction,” he said.

“These widespread improvements are an ongoing testament to the collective efforts of all our educators,” said Commissioner of Education, Miguel A. Cardona. “While our excellent teachers are delivering challenging material in engaging ways, our amazing support personnel such as social workers, counselors, and job coaches are encouraging, motivating, and strengthening our students to persevere through the challenging times. These supports have always been important but are even more critical in the context of a pandemic.”

What’s a high school diploma prove?

Connecticut largely leaves it up to districts to determine who graduates, and does not require students to pass any type of test or complete a portfolio to earn a diploma. Instead, the state requires students complete certain courses in various subject areas.

Over the years, many have questioned what a high school diploma proves.

In March, the state board of education received a report that showed that 43% of the students who enrolled in the state’s Connecticut State College and University system, which includes community college, had to take a remedial course to learn material they should have acquired in high school. That was down from 50% five years ago.

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

Jacqueline was CT Mirror’s Education and Housing Reporter, and an original member of the CT Mirror staff, joining shortly before our January 2010 launch. Her awards include the best-of-show Theodore A. Driscoll Investigative Award from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists in 2019 for reporting on inadequate inmate health care, first-place for investigative reporting from the New England Newspaper and Press Association in 2020 for reporting on housing segregation, and two first-place awards from the National Education Writers Association in 2012. She was selected for a prestigious, year-long Propublica Local Reporting Network grant in 2019, exploring a range of affordable and low-income housing issues. Before joining CT Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College.

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