The day after the sobering results of the new PARCC testing were released, the Christie administration had some better news for New Jersey’s schools yesterday: Graduation rates are up.
The administration announced the state’s graduation rate had risen to its highest level since a new method of counting started five years ago, with nearly 90 percent – 89.7 percent, to be precise – of students graduating in 2015.
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“We all should be proud of the work our teachers and school leaders have done to help make sure our students have the opportunity to graduate from high school ready to take the next step in their lives,” said state Education Commissioner David Hespe in releasing the results.
The new method is key, and it is now mandated by the federal government. It counts students enrolled as freshmen four years earlier who got their diplomas last summer, replacing a system that was far looser and led to inflated figures.
Nonetheless, the 89.7 percent is sure to continue to be one of the highest in the nation, if history follows, and is likely a testament to both the quality of the schools and the wealth of the state.
Within that overall graduation rate were some other encouraging numbers. For the first time, African-American students, Hispanic students and those from low-income families all surpassed 80 percent graduation rates.
But there are still wide disparities between individual schools, with the differences breaking down mostly along the same socio-economic lines.
The top graduation rates continue to be in the wealthiest school districts or at magnet schools that are either part of a county vocational system or part of larger school communities.
For example, more than 20 schools saw almost all of their students – more than 99 percent -- graduate in four years, in a list dominated by county magnet schools.
Exceptions included Robert McNair High School in Jersey City and Rosa Parks High School in Paterson, which are both selective magnet schools within larger districts in those cities.
At the other end, though, were schools with graduation rates far more worrisome, a list dominated by the state’s largest cities: just 35 percent at Barringer High School in Newark, only 46 percent at Camden High School, and 51 percent at Henry Snyder High School in Jersey City.
And plenty of concerns remain going forward, as the state transitions to a new high school graduation test with the PARCC exams.
For instance, more than 80 percent of all 11th-graders taking the previously required graduation tests passed on the first try.
This past year, the new PARCC testing had a passing rate below 50 percent on what will be required tests for graduation, although the state is offering a menu of alternative measures for the next couple of years.
That transition process is being challenged by a group of parents and advocates who maintain that tens of thousands of students could see their high-school diplomas at risk this June. The case remains before a state administrative law judge.