Tacoma sets graduation rate record at 78 percent

12/2/2014 | TACOMA, Washington

Tacoma’s graduation rate for 2014 reached 78 percent – the highest since the state began officially tracking the statistic in 2003, according to data submitted to the state by Tacoma Public Schools.
 
“That is a number worth celebrating,” said School Board President Scott Heinze, who presided over an announcement Tuesday at First Creek Middle School.
 
After the release of the 2012 graduation data, the School Board set a bold goal – graduate 85 percent of Tacoma students by 2020. How bold? Consider that in 2007 a national researcher labeled all Tacoma’s comprehensive high schools as “dropout factories” in a news story published across the country. And as recently as 2010, Tacoma high schools graduated 55 percent of students.
 
During a first-ever State of Tacoma Schools address to the community in November, Superintendent Carla Santorno described that 2010 mark as “shameful.” Tuesday, Santorno used another word.
 
“Powerful,” she said. “What gets measured gets done. We haven’t reached our goal yet, and the work will only get harder in the years to come. But today we need to praise the leadership of our principals, the hard work of our top-notch teachers and the support of caring staff members throughout the district for looking out for every student, every day.”
 
The final 2014 graduation report, sent by the district to the Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction (OSPI), included the following notable achievements:
·         The graduation rate went up in every Tacoma high school.
·         The 78 percent rate for 2014 is 2 percentage points higher than the statewide average for 2013.
·         The dropout rate fell from 17.9 percent in 2013 to 14.4 percent in 2014.
·         Students considered low-income because they qualify for free or reduced-price school meals saw their graduation rate increase from 61.2 percent in 2013 to 70.5 percent in 2014.
·         The graduation rate for special education students rose from 45.9 percent to 55.8 percent.
·         Family stability influences graduation success. Students who start their high school experience with Tacoma Public Schools graduate at 79.6 percent, while students who enter Tacoma high schools sometime after 9th grade graduate at 69.3 percent – more than a 10 percent difference.
 
Closing achievement gaps remains a strategic priority set by the School Board, and the 2014 graduation statistics provided notable gains. Graduation rates went up – significantly up – over 2013 for every single racial demographic – Asian (+11.5%), Black (+7.3%), Hispanic (+10.1%), Native American (+10.1), Pacific Islander (+15%), Multi-ethnic (+28%) and White (+6.4%).
 
“We still have much more work to do on our achievement gaps, but we’re heading in the right direction across the board for our students traditionally thought of as low-performing – and for those considered high-performing,” Santorno said.
 
A snapshot of the three-year demographic trend – 2012 to 2014 – shows graduation rates have gone up for nearly every group:
 
  Demographic Group
2012
2014
  Difference
Asian
72.3%
86.2%
+13.9
Black
59.4%
73.8%
+14.4
Hispanic
57.5%
67.0%
+9.5
Native American
48.6%
68.2%
+19.6
Pacific Islander
51.6%
68.6%
+17.0
Multi-ethnic
62.9%
61.4%
-1.5
White
74.0%
82.2%
+8.2
 
One powerful legislative initiative adopted by Tacoma Public Schools is the College Bound Scholars program. Established by the Legislature in 2007, the program provides financial assistance to low-income students who want to achieve the dream of a college education. This early promise of financial aid is intended to remove financial barriers that prevent many low-income students from believing they can attend college. The scholarship is available to 7th and 8th grade students who qualify for the free and reduced-price lunch program, are in foster care or whose family income meets the guidelines.
 
Tacoma Public Schools has aggressively signed up students by their 8th grade year since the program began. For the class of 2014, the on-time graduation rate for 648 College Bound Scholars was 80.1 percent – slightly higher than the district’s overall rate. Another 541 low-income students not coded as College Bound Scholars graduated at just 62.1 percent – a whopping 18 percentage-point difference.
 
“Our Board of Directors has led us a long, long way,” Santorno said. “Not only did they set the goal, they followed it up with a series of insightful policies to increase the rigor of high school coursework; eliminate fees for SAT, PSAT and Advanced Placement tests; and established a new process for us to create more innovative schools.
 
“OSPI already has recognized Tacoma Public Schools as the most innovative district in Washington for our portfolio of options for students. We are now seeing the results that come along with those innovations,” Santorno said.
 
Graduation Rate By High School
  2013  2014
Difference
Foss
64.9%
74.1%
+9.2
Lincoln
65.7%
79.0%
+13.3
Mount Tahoma
62.8%
67.6%
+4.8
Oakland
7.7%
14.8%
+7.1
Science and Math Institute
97.0%
97.3%
+0.3
Stadium
79.0%
85.4%
+6.4
School of the Arts
91.4%
97.5%
+6.1
Wilson
84.7%
91.1%
+6.4