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State Posts Record High Graduation Rate for 2012
By Danielle Dreilinger
Louisiana posted its highest four-year graduation rate ever in 2012: 72.3 percent, Gov. Bobby Jindal announced Thursday. That marks a small increase from 2011. The school districts in New Orleans beat the state average with 77.8 percent, a staggering 25 percentage points above the 2004 rate, when only 54.4 percent of students graduated from high school.
The graduation rate for the Recovery School District, which took over New Orleans' low-performing schools after Hurricane Katrina, has shot up 10 percentage points in three years, to 67.7 percent. Fourteen of its schools had 12th grades in 2011-12. Half were charter schools and half were traditional direct-run schools.
The eight Orleans Parish School Board high schools continued to post the highest graduation rate in the state. But, even so, the graduation rate for the Orleans Parish School Board schools dropped 4.5 percentage points to 89.3 percent.
The RSD's schools outside New Orleans had a much lower graduation rate of 55.4 percent, but that's a 10-point increase from 2011.
The state's graduation rate for African-American students in 2012 rose to 65.3 percent from 64 percent. Only 33 percent of students with disabilities graduated, a figure that has barely budged in five years.
The four-year graduation measure is stringent. Students who need an extra semester to complete high school requirements do not count as having "graduated," nor do students who earn a GED or a special education completion certificate.
These figures have a direct effect for high schools, constituting 25 percent of the school performance score that determines over time whether charter schools stay open. A different graduation statistic accounts for an additional 25 percent of a school's score.
Orleans Parish School Board interim Superintendent Stan Smith said the school district is proud that its schools remain at the top, but the board plans to look at individual schools to "see what our challenges and issues are and then work to address those." Sci High improved slightly but Karr, McDonogh 35 and McMain's graduation rates went down, he said. Ben Franklin, Lusher and Warren Easton continue to graduate nore thab 95 percent of their students.
The results aren't likely to move Louisiana much in national rankings: In 2011, state four-year graduation rates ranged from 59 percent in Washington, D.C., to 88 percent in Iowa, with Louisiana tied for eighth-lowest. National data for 2012 are not yet available and the U.S. Department of Education has not calculated a four-year cohort average for 2011 because of missing data from Idaho, Kentucky and Oklahoma.
However, a different graduation measure showed Louisiana improving faster than the national average from 2003-2009. An analysis released this month by Brain Track has Louisiana on pace to reach a 90 percent graduation rate with the Class of 2020.
"It's great news," said Leslie Jacobs, former Orleans Parish School Board member, former BESE member and a creator of the state's accountability system. The goal of a K-12 system is to get students prepared when they graduate from high school, she said.
Both Jindal and Education Superintendent John White said the improvement shows that the state's efforts to increase accountability and performance were paying off. "These reforms are working for our students," Jindal said in a statement. However, he said, "We will not stop working until every child in Louisiana has the opportunity to get both a great education and the skills they need to be successful in the 21st century workforce."
"This increase in the number of Louisiana students graduating is a clear sign that the changes set in motion in the schools of our state are working. These steps, along with the dedication of educators and families, have produced great results," White said in a statement.