Consortium study shows graduation rates overstatedBy William Harms
The University’s Consortium on Chicago School Research has discovered in the results of a new study that although graduation rates have been improving along with academic achievement among Chicago Public Schools students, the actual graduation rate is much lower than typically reported.
On the state school report card, CPS lists a graduation rate of nearly 71 percent for the graduating class of 2004. That percentage, which is an estimate that follows an Illinois State Board of Education formula, overstates the graduation rate, largely because students who transfer to other schools and then drop out are not counted as dropouts, the study said.
An analysis of individual student records by Elaine Allensworth, Associate Director of the consortium, showed that 54 percent of the students who entered CPS schools as freshmen in 2000 graduated four years later in 2004.
The analysis also found large discrepancies in high school completion among racial groups, among schools serving similar kinds of students and between different neighborhoods in the city.
“Graduation from high school is one of the most important indicators of students’ success in later life, while failure to graduate from high school leads to numerous costs for both the individual and society,” Allensworth said. “Yet up to this point, it has been difficult for most people to get accurate information about the percentage of students who graduate from Chicago’s public schools.”
By following the school careers of individual students, the consortium was able to produce statistics using methods similar to those the National Center of Education Statistics at the U.S. Department of Education recommend.
Overall, the study found steady improvement in graduation rates. In 1991, 48 percent of the students who entered high school at age 13 completed high school by age 19. By 2004, that number had reached 54 percent. Boosts in academic achievement during the decade helped increase graduation rates because students were entering high school better prepared, Allensworth said.
Despite the improvements, the gap between African-American students and others in 2004 is substantial. Among boys, only 39 percent of African Americans graduate by age 19, compared with 51 percent of Latinos, 58 percent of whites and 76 percent of Asians.
Graduation rates were highest among girls: 57 percent for African Americans, 65 percent for Latinas, 71 percent for whites and 85 percent for Asians.
The study found that high school graduation rates were highest among children from more affluent families and those living in largely white neighborhoods on the southwest and northwest sides.
Despite these factors, the study found wide differences between schools serving similar students. The study found, for instance, that although Kenwood Academy and Morgan Park High School serve similar student populations, graduation rates tend to be about 9 percentage points higher at Morgan Park than at Kenwood.
The study identified a number of schools that were particularly successful in their graduation rates when compared with predictions based on the background characteristics of students who enroll in the school, such as their economic status and achievement in elementary school. Those schools included a number of new schools, including Chicago Military Academy-Bronzeville, Hancock, Noble Street and Perspectives.
“Why these new schools are doing so well and what has happened to neighborhoods over this period should be significant points for policy discussion,” said Allensworth, who noted that the study did not detail the reasons for the high achievement.
“A student’s likelihood of obtaining a diploma will vary substantially based on the school in which he or she is enrolled,” Allensworth said. “Issues of equity across the system have become more serious and deserve immediate attention.”