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Graduation rate hits new high, but some groups still lag behind

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The new study “A Promise Worth Keeping” examined seven cohorts of students through high school, starting with incoming 9th graders in 2002 and ending with 2008’s 9th graders.

The report shows how the citywide effort to boost the high school graduation rate led to steady progress over the last eight years. But while the overall rate at which Philadelphia’s students are now graduating has never been higher, the report also provides data showing that many segments of the student population still trail their peers in graduating on time, putting them at greater risk of dropping out.

Racial gaps in graduation rates shrink, but persist

The two graphs below show that the graduation rates for each major racial and ethnic group increased markedly over that time span. Hispanic males and females made the biggest improvements. Graduation rates for Black and Hispanic males and Hispanic females are no longer below 50 percent, but those three groups still fare the worst.

The following graph shows the one-year dropout rate by race/ethnicity. This is a different type of analysis, based on the total number and percentage of dropouts from all grades in a particular school year. The data show a sharp dropoff between 2003-04 and 2011-12 in the rate at which students of each ethnicity were dropping out.

Teen moms and DHS-involved students still lag behind

Graduation rates have improved even for some groups at high risk of dropping out: teen mothers, children in foster care or the juvenile justice system, and other DHS-involved students. Here are some key facts:

• One in five Philadelphia high school students has had some history of involvement with the Department of Human Services or the juvenile justice system. Historically, graduation rates for these groups of students have been low.

• Graduation rates for students in the foster care system and for those receiving other DHS services each increased by more than 15 points over six years.

• The graduation rate for youth with juvenile justice involvement more than doubled, rising from 16 percent (for the cohort that started 9th grade in 2002) to 36 percent for the 2008 cohort of 9th graders.

• Adolescent mothers also completed school at higher rates – the graduation rate climbed from 31 percent to 42 percent during the period studied.

• Still, these groups’ graduation rates lag well behind the citywide average – and fall below 50 percent.

Fewer students have been falling off-track in 8th and 9th grades…

Little progress in postsecondary enrollments

While high school graduation rates are up significantly in Philadelphia, this has not translated yet into much growth in enrollment rates in two- and four-year colleges and universities. This graph shows, for each cohort of new 9th graders, the percentage who went on to enroll in college six or more years later. The trend line moves up only slightly over this six-year span.

• Enrollment in either a two- or four-year institution after high school ranged from 36 percent for the cohort that started 9th grade in 2002 to 38 percent for the first-time 9th graders of 2008.

• The percentage for the final cohort on the chart (38 percent) could still climb further: At the time of this analysis, those students were still less than six years from the year they started high school.

• Postsecondary enrollment rates were markedly lower for adolescent mothers and students with DHS or juvenile justice involvement.

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