Tacoma schools continue march of successes

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Tacoma schools posted the highest graduation rate since the state began tracking records more than 10 years ago. Photo courtesy of Tacoma Public Schools

The graduation rate for Tacoma Public Schools’ high schools has reached 86.1 percent – the highest since the state began officially tracking the statistic in 2003 and the seventh straight year of gains, according to data submitted to the state by Tacoma Public Schools. The rate not only surpasses the state average but is higher – and three years ahead of schedule – than the goal the district set back in 2012.

“Statisticians say three data points makes a trend. When we have seven data points trending upward, I believe we have developed a culture of high expectations, relentless use of data to better understand every student’s progress and nurturing those who need it,” said Superintendent Carla Santorno in a statement announcing the graduation numbers. She unveiled the 2017 graduation rate at a celebratory ceremony last week at Titlow Lodge.

The recent figures are the latest milestone in the community-wide march to improve public school education in Tacoma that started in 2012. At that time, the school district’s graduation rate was 61.7 percent. The school board then set out to create multi-program partnerships to boost student achievement for all grade levels and student groups. Data-driven reports have been released annually ever since to chart the effectiveness of those efforts.

“As much as we rely on data – and we certainly do – the most important thing to me is that every decimal point we improve means more students whose lives we have reset on a new trajectory of success, not just in school but in life,” Santorno said. “Think about this: If the class of 2017 had graduated students at the same rate as the class of 2010, 565 of the students who graduated would have dropped out instead.”

Santorno credited high school principals, teachers and guidance counselors and the support of caring staff members at all grade levels throughout the district for looking out for “every student, every day.”

Just five years ago, only 100 high school students attended summer school, for example. That rate has since jumped 10 fold, with another 100 teens attending in-school summer programs that are offered by partner programs and community groups.

“These summer programs provide students the opportunity to both recapture credits they may have missed when they failed courses and to accelerate their academic standing by taking experiential courses that piqued their interest,” said executive director of secondary education Doug Hostetter. “Another example is an intentional and targeted response with students who are showing undesirable attendance, behavior and/or academic course performance. Tacoma has a strong system that includes attendance ‘nudge letters’ sent to parents, weekly phone calls home if the student has a grade lower than a C in any class and teams of teachers and school staff meeting regularly to discuss interventions for students who are struggling in any of these areas.”

Tacoma’s 86.1 percent graduation rate exceeds the average statewide by 7 percent. Diving into that overall statistic shows minority and low-income students overall graduated above the statewide average for all students and have steadily improved since 2013.

“We are very proud of the work of our school staff in narrowing the graduation rate gap between our many valued demographic student groups,” said Hostetter. “Our goal is to completely close this gap, so we are not satisfied. There are many factors that come into play that will continue to require our focused attention and our resources to reduce the gaps and continue our progress. Unfortunately, the gap Tacoma is experiencing is mirrored throughout the nation. Reducing gaps between different demographic groups is a work in progress for the vast majority of US schools and school districts.”

The final 2017 graduation report, sent by the district to the Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction (OSPI), included the following notable achievements:

Tacoma’s 86.1 percent rate for 2017 exceeds the 2016 statewide average graduation rate of 79.1 percent by a record 7 percent.

The 2017 districtwide dropout rate continued a multi-year downward trend by falling to 8.9 percent from 14.3 percent in 2014.

Closing “graduation gaps” remains a strategic priority set by the School Board – and the 2015 graduation statistics provided multiple years of notable gains.

Graduation rates went up since 2013 for nearly every racial demographic:

Black       up 17.7%       85.1% 2017 Grad Rate

Hispanic       up 22.9%       80.1% 2017 Grad Rate

Native American     up 12.3%       70.4% 2017 Grad Rate

Pacific Islander       up 39.9%       93.5% 2017 Grad Rate

Multi-ethnic         up 42.7%       77.2% 2017 Grad Rate

White       up 12.4%         88.2% 2017 Grad Rate

Asian       up 18.5%         93.2% 2017 Grad Rate

Of note, Black, Hispanic, Pacific Islander students all graduated above the 2016 statewide average for all students.

Perhaps most startlingly, low-income students graduated at 80.9 percent in the class of 2017.

Statistics courtesy of Tacoma Public Schools

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