The Everett school district used to have one of the worst on-time graduation rates in the Puget Sound area. But after a concerted effort over more than 10 years, the district has raised its on-time graduation rate from the low 50s in 2003 to more than 80 percent.
Last year, after a few years of stagnation, it saw another increase — from 81.8 percent in 2012, to 84.4 percent for the class of 2013.
The district credits the rise with a renewed effort to examine, student by student, the problems and challenges that students encounter, said Jeannie Willard, the district’s on-time graduation coordinator. (How many school districts have a position like that?)
One new lesson: The district found that it helps to give students an immediate chance to catch up if they fail a class, not making them wait until the next semester, or summer school. Now, for example, teachers sometimes write contracts with students to finish missed work after a semester ends.
Having a way to get right back on track boosts students’ morale, Willard said, and breaks a common cycle — that once students start failing, they keep failing.
Some of the earlier lessons: It still helps to catch students early when they start to falter. Everett employs about 20 people they call “success coordinators” who identify students who are starting to slide, and keep on top of them to turn in assignments, repeat tests — whatever they need to keep passing.
Willard said the district also continues to track down students who drop out, and to work with them on returning to earn their missing credits. The district also encourages more students to go to college, one way to keep them motivated and on course in high school.
Everett was one of the bright spots in last year’s graduation picture. Statewide, the on-time graduation rate dropped to 76 percent for the class of 2013, down from 77.2 percent for the class of 2012. The percent of students who graduated in five years stayed about the same — 78.9 percent.
But there is a lot of variation among school districts, which the Everett example shows.
In the Seattle area, for example, some school districts have on-time graduation rates as high as 93 percent (Issaquah and Mercer Island) while others are in the 55-65 range (Highline and Tukwila). Seattle’s rate was 72.6 percent.
There also is a lot of variation among different groups of students. Statewide, for example, Asian students had the highest on-time graduation rate in 2013, at 84 percent. Native American students had the lowest, at 52.5 percent.
Among 13 Seattle-area districts, on-time graduation rates rose from 2012 to 2013 in only three besides Everett: Edmonds, Federal Way and Issaquah.
The state’s latest report on high-school graduation is available on the Office of Superintendent of Public Education’s website, and it has lots of data to chew on, including spreadsheets that show the graduation rate for various student groups by district, and graduation rates by high school.