City Schools’ 4-year graduation rate down slightly with new testing requirements

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Baltimore City Public Schools headquarters on North Avenue. Photo by Eli Pousson/Baltimore Heritage, via Flickr.

Baltimore City Public Schools’ four-year graduation rate decreased by nearly 2 percentage points in 2019, the first year since Maryland implemented “more rigorous” graduation requirements, city school officials announced Tuesday.

Of the 4,955 students in the Class of 2019, about 70.3 percent graduated in four years, down about 1.9 percent from 2018, according to data from the Maryland Report Card for 2018 and 2019.

The Maryland State Department of Education required graduating students to obtain a minimum score of 3 out of 5 or above on the Maryland High School Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment in English or to complete a Bridge Plan for Academic Validation.

The Bridge Plan for Academic Validation allows students who do not earn the minimum score on the PARCC assessment to still qualify for graduation by completing projects in the courses in which they tested unsuccessfully.

Students who completed Algebra I after 9th grade were also required to earn a minimum score or complete a Bridge Plan for Academic Validation in that subject.

City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises said the implementation of tougher requirements caused the graduation rate to decrease, similar to the effects of previous changes to Maryland schools.

“The new graduation requirements raised the bar for all Maryland students, and our results reflected the historical outcomes for schools and students when they implement new standards,” Santelises said. “Nevertheless, our students performed admirably.”

City Schools is having current 6th, 8th, 9th and 12th grade students complete student plans to align their academic path with post-secondary school goals. All students in grades 6-12 will complete an individualized student plan starting next school year.

“The intentionality of our student planning process is the proper step to raise student achievement,” Santelises said.

Most demographic groups in City Schools experienced a drop in their graduation rate compared to 2018. English Language Learners experienced the largest drop with a 10-point decrease from 2018, per the Maryland Report Card data.

But several demographic groups–students at schools with a high rates of poverty, homeless students, students in the foster care system, white male students, and female students of two or more races–increased their graduation rate. The students at schools where 40 percent or more of their classmates live in poverty, also known as Title I students, experienced the largest gains, with an increase of about 11 percent.

The graduation rates for some other demographics remained the same, or nearly the same, year to year.

Overall, the school district’s four-year graduation rate decreased. But one-third of high schools in the city experienced an increase. Meanwhile, 75 percent of students graduated within five years, an increase of .02 percentage points, City Schools said.

The four-year graduation has increased by 8.8 percent overall since 2010, the school system said.

Linda Chinnia, chair of the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners said “the bar was raised” on graduation requirements, which resulted in the decrease. She said the school board remains confident that students, teachers and the district are “equipped to meet the challenge.”

“We are headed in the right direction, with the right leader,” Chinnia said. “Our best days remain ahead.”

Marcus Dieterle

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