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High school graduation rates decrease despite measures

Date: 2/15/2011

Feb. 16, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD — Denise Hurst, vice chair of the Springfield School Committee, called the announcement that the city's high school graduation rate has fallen rather than increased "absolutely disappointing."

Antonette Pepe, the member of the School Committee with the longest tenure, said the rate was "unacceptable."

School Superintendent Dr. Alan Ingram released the information in a written statement to the press on Feb. 10.

State education officials reported Springfield's 2010 four-year graduation rate at 53 percent, compared to 54.5 percent last year; and the city's 2010 dropout rate at 10.5 percent, compared to 9.6 percent last year. The data used by the state to calculate the 2010 graduation rate covers school years 2006 through 2010, which includes two years before Ingram was appointed superintendent.

"The unacceptably low graduate rate has been a major focus since my very first day as superintendent and the district has implemented a number of strategies to confront this issue over the past two years," Ingram said. "To say I am disappointed that our efforts have not been enough to move the needle significantly in a positive direction is an understatement; but it tells me that we must still do more. And we will do more."

Ingram noted there have been measures and programs taken to address the city's graduation rate. These include both Saturday, night and summer school sessions; the use of graduation coaches; and Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) preparation programs.

"These have been significant inroads and we will continue to support students through this strong network of resources," Ingram said. "I am absolutely certain our dropout rate would have been higher and our graduation rate lower had these programs not been in place."

According to School Department information, more than 150 seniors, who were at risk for not receiving their high school diploma in 2010, graduated in August after completing Credit Recovery and other summer school programs.

The 2010 graduation rate also reflects the start of a new higher standard for passing the MCAS. Instead of reaching a score of 220 to pass, the new figure is 240. Passing the MCAS is a requirement for graduation.

Hurst believes this change in the MCAS is an important factor in Springfield's graduation rates.

She added there have been improvements in the graduation rates at Putnam Vocational Technical High School.

Hurst believes a stronger effort must be undertaken to address truancy in the city. She said if students aren't in school, they are not able to acquire the skills needed to graduate.

"Right now nothing has been implemented," Hurst said of measures to improve the truancy rate.

Pepe believes the school system should continue to "analyze the data and identify the reasons for the increase in the dropout rate."

Among those reasons are over-crowded classrooms and a ratio of counselors to students approximately 300 to 1 in the city's middle schools.

She added, "Classrooms need to be orderly and teachers need ongoing administrative support."

She also sees the loss of "too many highly experienced educators" as another potential reason for the decrease in the graduation rate.

"It takes good leadership and accountability to get results. The last decade has seen the reorganization of the district to increase top administration at both the central office and the schools. At the same time, the Springfield Public Schools has been receiving state and federal grants to improve the educational offerings and to provide professional development. We have an obligation to review the organization and to analyze the impact of positions on student achievement," she said.

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