RI high school dropout rate down, grad rate up

Classroom desks (WPRI)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Three years into a state law that requires students to remain in school until the age of 18, Rhode Island’s high school dropout rate has dropped four percentage points to 8%, according to data released Thursday by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE).

The dropout rate is comprised of the cohort of students who entered high school in 2010 – or those who transferred in to become part of that group – but left school and did not return before the class of 2014 graduated. Students whose whereabouts are unknown are also labeled dropouts.

“Our 2014 graduation rates and dropout rates show that, increasingly, students from across the state, whatever their background or circumstances may be, are staying in school and earning a high-school diploma,” Education Commissioner Deborah Gist said in a prepared statement. “We hold high expectations for our students, and our students have stepped up to meet this challenge.”

RIDE also reported that that state’s graduation rate rose to 81%, up nearly six percentage points from 2009. The remaining 19% of students in that cohort dropped out, entered into a GED program or are still in school, according to RIDE.

By the class of 2015, Rhode Island’s strategic plan around education calls for a statewide graduation rate of 85%.

“As we make creating opportunities for all Rhode Islanders a priority, we must continue this momentum to make sure our kids build the skills they need to compete in a 21st-century economy, Governor Gina Raimondo said in a statement. “Earning a high-school diploma is one important component to making our state stronger for everyone.”

In 2011, state lawmakers approved legislation that raised the age of compulsory student attendance from 16 to 18, in part to address the “large number of dropouts from Rhode Island schools,” state Rep. Joe McNamara, D-Warwick, said at the time. A year later, President Obama used his State of the Union address to call for all states to require students to remain in school until 18.

As of 2012, 22 states required students to stay in school until they turn 18, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Rhode Island, students involved in an alternative learning program can still leave school at 16, but they must have approval from a local school district. That requirement has paid dividends, according to Providence School Superintendent Dr. Susan Lusi.

“It used to be that kids could just sign themselves out of school at 16,” Lusi said. “[Dropping out] alters the course of your life.”

In Providence, the city’s four-year graduation rate for the class of 2014 dropped from 72% to 71%, but is still up five percentage points from the class of 2011. Lusi said she was pleased to see the city’s graduation rate remained steady even with students dealing with the pressure of a diploma policy that required them to score at least partially proficient on the math and English sections of the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) exam.

State lawmakers ended up delaying the graduation policy until at least 2017. The state Board of Education is considering pushing it back until 2020. The NECAP has been replaced by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam. Students will begin taking the test in March.

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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