State Has Largest Disparity In Graduation Rates, According To New Federal Data
Poor Students Less Likely To Graduate
By KATHLEEN MEGAN
November 27, 2012
Connecticut ranks low among New England states for high school graduation rates, and the rate for economically disadvantaged students is among the lowest in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Although Connecticut's overall high school graduation rate of 83 percent places it among the top 18 states, the 62 percent graduation rate for economically disadvantaged students is among the worst. Iowa is at the front with an 88 percent graduation rate. Only seven states reported a lower graduation rate for economically disadvantaged students than Connecticut.
The preliminary data are based on the percentage of students who started in ninth grade and graduated in the spring of 2011.
The gap between Connecticut's overall graduation rate and the graduation rate for economically disadvantaged students was 21 percentage points — the largest such gap among all the states reporting data. Minnesota had the second-largest gap at 19 percentage points, while North Dakota was third with a gap of 15 percentage points.
The figures also made it possible, for the first time, to compare the racial and ethnic gap in graduation rates across the country. Eighty-nine percent of Connecticut's white, non-Hispanic students graduated from high school in 2011, compared with 71 percent of black students and 64 percent of Hispanic students. In New England, only Rhode Island, with an overall graduation rate of 77 percent, trailed Connecticut, which was tied with Massachusetts at 83 percent.
The new graduation figures are significant because it is the first time that all of the states have used "a common rigorous measure" in calculating graduation rates, according to the federal agency.
James Polites, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, declined to comment on the graduation numbers because he said they were preliminary.
But Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said that the graduation gap "doesn't surprise me at all. Until we change the system to make it student-centered, we are going to keep getting these results."
"It's an economic imperative, a moral imperative, and it's a social imperative. You can't have this kind of gap and expect to have a healthy society."
Daren Briscoe, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, said the figures were preliminary because a few states had not yet submitted data.
Briscoe said that in the past, states had used varying methods to come up with a graduation rate, sometimes basing the graduation rate only on the number of students who started senior year and graduated in June. He said the new figures follow students from ninth grade through graduation.
The figures make it possible to compare graduation rates more accurately across states and to spot potential problems. A statement from the federal agency said that "graduation rates calculated using this new method will become a key element of state accountability systems."
State education advocates say the gap in graduation rates is yet another measure of the state's largest-in-the-nation achievement gap, as documented by scores on various standardized tests.
Patrick Riccards, chief executive officer of the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, called the graduation rates "another way to look at the achievement gap. We see we are lagging."
Cirasuolo said that he thinks that other states have higher rates of graduation for economically disadvantaged students because they have been quicker to make systemic changes, including providing students who need it with extended time.
Led by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the General Assembly this year passed a comprehensive package of education changes aimed at closing the achievement gap, with new initiatives aimed at improving achievement in the cities.
With reforms underway now, Cirasuolo said that Connecticut has finally begun to make the needed changes, including providing students in troubled school districts with extended days and varied types of instruction.
"We are starting to do it," Cirasuolo said. "Other states have done it sooner."
"We need to realize that different students need differing lengths of time to learn things," he said. "Secondly, we have to learn, there are five or six different primary learning styles. We don't teach in ways that accommodate all of them."
Courant staff writer Matthew Kauffman contributed to this story.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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