Alachua County graduation rate passes state average


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Six of seven county high schools see improvements

Alachua County's high school graduation rate improved by more than four percentage points, jumping above the statewide average for the first time in recent history.

The countywide four-year high school graduation rate for 2017 was 82.7 percent, a gain of 4.3 points from the prior year, according to a report from the Florida Department of Education released Wednesday.

The statewide average for 2017 was 82.3 percent. It is the first time Alachua County has been better than the state average in at least 15 years.

Graduation rates in the county and state have risen consistently for more than a decade.

The graduation rate for African American students in Alachua County improved to 68.3 percent, up from 66.8 percent in 2016. Still, that rate remains lower than for students who identify as white, Hispanic or Asian.

The county rate is based on a federal standard that includes students attending charter schools and other independently operated programs in the county. For the seven high schools operated by Alachua County Public Schools, the graduation rate was 91 percent. The rate for P.K. Yonge, a K-12 school operated by the University of Florida, is reported separately, and its graduation rate was 98 percent.

Six of the county's seven high schools saw improvements. The biggest gain was at the Professional Academies Magnet at Loften, where the graduation rate spiked by 14 points to hit 94 percent. Hawthorne High School, which must earn a C grade for this school year in order to remain open, rose to 74 percent, up from 70 percent the year before.

Only Eastside High School saw a dip. The graduation rate there fell to 91 percent, from 97 percent the previous year.

At the other high schools operated by the district:

• Buchholz — 92 percent, up 3 points;

• Gainesville — 90 percent, up 3 points;

• Newberry — 97 percent, up 2 points;

• Santa Fe — 90 percent, up 7 points.

“We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, but of course we won’t be satisfied until we’ve reached 100 percent,” said Superintendent Karen Clarke, in a press release Wednesday afternoon.

Clarke credited programs to reduce out-of-school suspensions, which fell by 30 percent last year, and funding the ACT test that is offered free to students. The ACT results can be used to meet state requirements for a standard diploma.

“Our administrators, counselors and teachers worked very closely with students, offering them multiple opportunities to meet the credit and testing requirements for graduation,” said Clarke. “We’ve continued those strategies this year and have added new ones, including graduation coaches and a new credit retrieval program.”

While rising graduation rates are a positive signal, they aren't the full measure of success, cautioned Dierde Houchen, a postdoctoral associate with the Center for the Study of Race & Race Relations a the University of Florida's Levin School of Law.

"When we talk about closing the achievement gap, graduation rates have little to do with student achievement," she said.

 Houchen explained that too often parents are surprised to find their high school children who have been getting good grades in class have failed state tests that measure mastery of a subject. There are many ways schools can move students along to graduation, she said.

"The measure the teacher is using is not same as the measure the state is using," said Houchen, who also leads the education task force for Gainesville For All, a community-based initiative to address racial disparities.

"What we at Gainesville For All have been focusing on are students passing these assessment exams in higher numbers," she said, noting that long-term success requires more than a high school diploma.