High School graduation rates up despite gap

New Haven Public Schools’ high school graduation rates spiked eight percent between 2010 and 2012, according to a recent report published by the local non-profit DataHaven.

The report, released last week, reveals that while New Haven is still lagging behind the state in some measures of well-being, the city has scored measurable gains in education over the past two years. High school graduation rates in New Haven jumped from 63 percent in 2010 to 71 percent in 2012, while statewide graduation rates only improved by three percent over the same time frame.

Some say that these advancements in New Haven high school graduation rates can in part be attributed to the School Change Initiative, an aggressive education reform strategy launched in 2010 by the New Haven Public School District. As stated on the program website, the primary goal of the initiative is to eliminate the performance gap between students in New Haven and the rest of the state.

“Making sure students graduate high school in four years is a major goal of School Change, so the increase in the graduation rate is a clear sign we are heading in the right direction,” Director of New Haven Public Schools Communications Abbe Smith wrote in a Tuesday email to the News.

The School Change Initiative approached education reform by grading schools on three tiers based on student performance, levels of student growth and school learning environment. Higher tier schools were given more flexibility on how their schools operate. The program also involves new methods of recruiting, evaluating and developing its teachers and administrators, and established a citywide parent leadership organization to encourage parents to engage with their children’s education.

The School Change Initiative approached education reform by grading schools on three tiers based on student performance, levels of student growth and school learning environment. Higher tier schools were given more flexibility on how their schools operate. The program also involves new methods of recruiting, evaluating and developing its teachers and administrators, and established a citywide parent leadership organization to encourage parents to engage with their children’s education.

In addition to an improved graduation rate, the district has also seen scores increase on the Connecticut Academic Performance Test, a standardized test administered statewide to 10th grade students. District gains in both math and science scores surpassed statewide gains from 2012 to 2013.

Still, New Haven’s elementary education has room for improvement. One measure of elementary educational achievement is third grade reading level, which strongly predicts a student’s chances of graduating from high school. While third-grade reading proficiency in New Haven did increase from 18 percent to 33 percent between 2008 and 2012, New Haven lags behind this year’s statewide average of 56 percent proficiency, according to the report.

Another issue in elementary education is chronic absences in grades k-3, DataHaven Executive Director and author of the report Mark Abraham ’04 said. The report states that students in New Haven were four times more likely than students in Outer Ring suburbs to miss at least 10 percent of the school year.

“These kids are going to fall behind their peers, so bringing down the chronic absences is really critical in improving graduation rates overall,” Abraham said.
The report also highlights an achievement gap between students living in higher and lower income neighborhoods of Greater New Haven. While 58 percent of third graders from high-income families in Greater New Haven are reading at or above goal level, only 17 percent of those from low-income families are hitting the benchmark proficiency, the report shows.

These academic disparities by class and race are present when students enter kindergarten, said Senior Policy Fellow at Connecticut Voices for Children Robert Cotto. Even though kids are making progress in reading and math at the same pace, he said, those who start out behind do not always catch up.

“The disparities in achievement map onto disparities in early learning,” Cotto said. “And since we can’t accommodate for outside of school factors, the best intervention we have at the moment is improving access to high-quality pre-schools.”

Cost is one of the major barriers to kindergarten readiness. 86 percent of all infants and toddlers from low-income families are not served by state or federal subsidies for early care and education, according to Connecticut Voices for Children.

The DataHaven report was published on Oct. 1.

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