Early Results Show Graduation Rate Gains In Shelby County, With Exceptions

By Bill Dries

From 96.4 percent in Arlington Community Schools to 78.7 percent in Shelby County Schools, the high school graduation rate in five of the public school systems in Shelby County increased in the 2015-2016 school year compared to the previous year.

Graduation rates across five of the six Shelby County public school systems that have high schools increased in the 2015-2016 school year, according to partial figures released by the state and the school districts Tuesday, Oct. 11.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

The Tennessee Education Department and the school districts released a partial set of figures on graduation Tuesday, Oct. 11, with a full set of school-by-school numbers still to come.

The high school graduation rate statewide in 2015-2016 was 88.5 percent, the highest on record since the state began using a more specific formula in 2011 for counting who graduated and who did not.

The 88.5 percent rate is about a percentage point higher than the previous school year.

The state also counts 60 percent of its districts with an increase or no change in graduation rates.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said the rate is “a critical step in allowing students to embark on their chosen paths in life.”

But she also added in a written statement that it is not the only gauge of student growth and success.

“As more students are earning their diplomas, we must ensure that they are all leaving with the knowledge and skills to be successful in college and the workforce,” she said.

Shelby County Schools, with 48 high schools including charters that are not part of the Achievement School District, special education schools, prep academies or alternative high schools, had a 78.7 percent graduation rate system-wide.

The number of high schools is far larger than any of the other school systems within Shelby County.

Of the 48 SCS high schools, 19 posted graduation rates of 85 percent or higher.

Middle College High School, Power Center Academy and Memphis School of Excellence had 100 percent graduation rates.

Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson credited teachers, principals and staff at the district level.

“Our continued improvements give me great confidence that we will meet our strategic goal of having 90 percent of students graduate on time by 2025,” he said in a written statement.

The 78.7 percent graduation rate was three points higher than SCS leaders anticipated.

The partial list of school-by-school results reflects a mix of different approaches within the high school model that SCS is using to turn around low-performing schools, and maintain and build on academic achievement at other schools. It also reflects the role of charters.

Eight of the schools with 85 percent or better graduation rates were conventional high schools and five of the eight have optional schools programs. Nine were charters and the remaining two were middle college high schools.

Hamilton High School didn’t make the 85 percent-or-higher group. But its 73.5 percent graduation rate is a 24.4 point gain from its 49.1 percent rate in the 2014-2015 school year.

Hamilton, which went through a number of school leaders during the tenure of former superintendent Kriner Cash, is part of the school system’s Innovation Zone. The I-Zone is the school system’s counterpart to the state-run Achievement School District. Like the ASD, I-Zone schools get a new principal and a rebuilt faculty as well as more money and teaching assistants for rapid and sustained intervention with students who are behind or who fall behind academically during the school year.

Hamilton recently went from a Level 1 ranking in terms of the growth in student achievement – the lowest level in the state standard – to Level 5, the highest ranking for student growth academically.

Five of the six suburban school systems have one high school. So their system-wide graduation rates are the percentages for a single high school. Lakeland’s school system does not have a high school.

Four of the six suburban school systems posted higher graduation rates system-wide in 2015-2016, from Arlington’s 96.4 percent graduation rate to Bartlett’s 88.6 percent rate.

Germantown’s 94.4 percent graduation rate was the biggest system-wide jump from 89.5 percent the year before.

The Millington school system saw a drop in its rate year-over-year, from 84.1 percent to 81 percent.

The ASD posted a 40.4 percent graduation rate in 2015-2016, down from 47.8 percent the year before. ASD leaders have said their two Pathways in Education centers and GRAD Academy work with overage students who are still attending school, but who show up in the numbers as not graduating.

The ASD and I-Zone are efforts that specifically target the bottom 5 percent of schools across the state in terms of student achievement. The graduation percentages for the ASD are for the Memphis schools in the system.