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One-Third of Washington Students Don’t Graduate from High School – Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

New study calls for better data, stronger high schools

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Carol Rava
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Phone: 206.709.3100

SEATTLE -- One-third of Washington state students fail to graduate from high school, according to a new study released by the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Civic Innovation. The study found that high school graduation rates were low across the board, especially for minority students.

Just over half of African-American students and less than half of Hispanic and Native-American students graduate, according to the study, which was funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“It’s a tragedy that so many of our young people, particularly African Americans and Hispanics, are getting lost in large, anonymous high schools and falling through the cracks,” said Tom Vander Ark, the foundation’s executive director for education. “We need better data on how students are doing and smaller, more effective high schools that provide the personal attention students need to achieve.”

The findings build on a national study by the Manhattan Institute, which examined graduation rates across all 50 states last fall and found similar results. The national graduation rate for the class of 1998 was 71 percent, but only 55 percent for African Americans and Hispanics. Washington’s graduation rate for the same year was 70 percent. For this new study, the foundation asked the institute to examine a cross-section of districts in Washington state to provide a more accurate picture of high schools here.

For the graduating class of 2001, the study found that 67 percent of Washington students graduated from high school; official state numbers indicate that 82 percent did. The study also found that:

· 51 percent of Tacoma’s high school students graduated, compared to 84 percent reported by the state
· 71 percent of Seattle students graduated, compared to 79 percent reported by the state
· 71 percent of Spokane students graduated, compared to 84 percent reported by the state
· 53 percent of African Americans, 47 percent of Native Americans, 47 percent of Hispanics, 77 percent of Asian Americans and 70 percent of whites graduated statewide

The districts examined represent suburban, urban, rural, large and small communities. A number of the districts have received grants from the foundation and are engaged in efforts to improve graduation rates by restructuring their high schools into smaller, more personalized learning environments. The foundation found the study’s findings disturbing, but not surprising.

“Dropping out of high school remands young people to a life of struggle and poverty,” Vander Ark said. “When we lose one student, it’s one too many.”

Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Dr. Jay P. Greene, who wrote the study, calculates dropout and graduation rates by tracking a “cohort” to compare the estimated number of students who begin ninth grade with those who finish 12th grade. He makes adjustments for transfers, deaths and other population changes. He does not include those who eventually receive a G.E.D., as their lifetime economic prospects more closely mirror those of a dropout.

Washington state has two ways of reporting graduation information. One looks at the percent of 12th graders who graduate at the end of the year, which does not account for students dropping out prior to their senior year. The other method counts the total number of students who officially dropped out (meaning they filled out the correct paperwork), divided by the total number of students enrolled in ninth grade that same year. All other unaccounted student population changes are noted as “unknown.”

With the passage of No Child Left Behind, all states will be required to use accurate data, including graduation rates, to examine and report school progress. But Vander Ark noted that attaining the required Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) will be difficult without the right information.

“Before schools can be systematically improved, we need a detailed and accurate picture of how students are performing and who is graduating,” he said. “Because high school graduation is such a strong predictor of adult success, it is critical that the calculation of that rate be accurate and specific.” 

Greene’s study focused on the class of 2001. He compared his numbers to the state’s 2000-2001 official report on graduation rates. The districts included in his study are: Bellingham, Enumclaw, Evergreen, Everett, Kennewick, Lake Washington, Mabton, Nooksack, Pasco, Port Angeles, Richland, Seattle, Spokane and Tacoma.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has invested more than $345 million to create smaller high schools so all students can get the support and personal attention they need to achieve.

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