This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The School District’s graduation rate is continuing on a decade-long upward climb, despite the deep cutbacks that have hit schools over the last four years.
The District’s six-year graduation rate – the percentage of students who started high school in Philadelphia District schools in 2008 and earned their diplomas by 2014 – has hit 70 percent, according to data released earlier this year. That percentage includes hundreds of students who don’t graduate on time but persist and earn their diplomas after a fifth or a sixth year of high school.
The four-year graduation rate inched up to 65 percent for the class of 2014. A decade ago, less than half of students graduated on time.
The six-year rate is still far shy of the 80 percent target set by Mayor Nutter shortly after he took office. The mayor’s stated goal was to reach that target by 2015. The announcement of this year’s results is still many months away.
These rates are called cohort graduation rates. They are based on tracking individual students over time. Each bar above shows the percentage of students in all District schools who started 9th grade together and graduated within four years or six years. Students who transferred to other school districts are removed from the calculation.
Comparable rates for Philadelphia charter schools as a whole for these cohorts were not available. The District’s Office of Accountability says it is unable to access and vet the student data for all charter schools to ensure its integrity.
For 2014, 21 of the city’s charters serving high school grades participated in the District’s School Progress Report (SPR) process, giving the District access to detailed data. On-time graduation rates for these charters were published by the District in April, along with comparable rates for District schools. The median four-year graduation rate for these charters was 80 percent. (The median is the middle rate when the rates are listed from smallest to largest.)
Calculating the graduation rate
Here’s how the School District’s overall on-time graduation rate is calculated.
To graduate, a student in Philadelphia must earn 23.5 credits in high school, with certain distribution requirements, including four courses in English. three in math, and three in science. Students must also successfully complete a multidisciplinary or service learning project. Other rules apply to special education students and English language learners.
For the class of 2017, new state requirements for graduation kick in: In addition to passing their coursework, students must pass Keystone exams in algebra, biology, and English – or successfully complete an alternative assessment in each subject. Pass rates on these exams in Philadelphia have been low.
Graduation requirements were last modified in 2005. They can be viewed online.