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Denver schools’ graduation rates up 4 percentage points to 56%

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Tania Molinar could have every excuse not to graduate from Abraham Lincoln High School on time.

She’s a first-generation high school student. English is her second language. And she’s a mom.

But she’s not making excuses.

This May, she will graduate on time — with honors. In the fall, she’ll enroll at the University of Denver with the hope of becoming a physician’s assistant.

“I’m going to open doors for myself, my son and my younger siblings,” said Molinar, a gregarious 17-year-old who credits an array of advisers, teachers and school programs for leading her to those doors.

And it’s why Lincoln, which increased its graduation rate by about 12 percentage points to 63.5 percent in 2011, was the backdrop Friday as Denver Public Schools touted significant gains in on-time graduation rates last year.

“Our absolute commitment is that every student in DPS, regardless of where they live, what language they speak . . . that every student will wear that cap and gown and cross the graduation stage,” said DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

Denver School of the Arts recorded the highest graduation rate at 97.5 percent; West High School had the lowest at 53 percent.

By the most basic bottom-line measure, the district outperformed the statewide average for growth rates. But even with the growth at DPS, its overall graduation levels still lag far behind the statewide average, according to data released by the Colorado Department of Education.

DPS rates increased by 4.3 percentage points — to 56.1 percent — whereas the statewide average increased 1.5 points to 73.9 percent.

The data compare on-time graduation rates between the school years 2009-10 and 2010-11.

Beginning in 2009-10, Colorado changed the method it used to calculate graduation rates. Unlike previous years — where students who took longer than four years to graduate were factored into the calculations — the rates are now based on a formula that defines “on time” as only students who graduate from high school four years after entering ninth grade.

Among the larger districts, Greeley-Evans School District 6 saw a 7.6 percentage-point gain in its graduation rate, bringing it to 71.8 percent. Graduation at Adams 12 Five Star Schools increased by 3.6 percentage points to 65.3 percent from 61.7 percent.

But all districts did not see increases.

For example, the Charter School Institute — based out of Denver — saw drastic declines in on-time graduation rates. In 2010, 46 percent of its students graduated on time, yet in 2011, that number decreased to 34.3 percent.

Interim executive director Ethan Hemming said a school closure and two new online high schools that focus on over-age, under-credited students less likely to graduate in four years are to blame for the drop.

“We take seriously graduation rates, but at the same time, we work with each school to set relevant goals and monitor their progress,” Hemming said.

At Lincoln, programs such as the Freshmen Academy, which houses ninth-graders away from the rest of the school and allows teachers to build and foster relationships with students, have helped to bolster on-time graduation rates. AVID, a college-prep program at the school, is another. It consists of a rigorous course of study and the use of college students as role models.

Sixty percent of DPS students who graduated in May 2010 enrolled in college within the first year after graduation, according to the district.

“We’ll continue with these same programs,” said Lincoln principal Josefina Petit-Higa. “We keep tabs on the kids as much as we can. We can’t let them fall through the cracks.”

Kurtis Lee

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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  • comment avatar JC S January 23, 2012

    Kids stay in school when the unemployment rate is so high. The schools are not doing a better job.

    Vouchers have always been the answer. Let parents choose the best schools for their children, rather than applying a lowest common denominator school system to everyone. One size does not fit all — never will.

  • comment avatar JoAnn January 23, 2012

    I think it’s great that it’s going up, but appalled at where it still is.

  • comment avatar Gretchen January 23, 2012

    I agree it’s great, but I nearly choked when I read 56%. That is deplorable.

  • comment avatar Amber January 23, 2012

    I was pretty shocked to hear how low it is!!!!!

  • comment avatar JoAnn January 23, 2012

    Have you watched “Waiting for Superman?” I thought they were kidding when they say what that national stats are. Totally unbelievable.

  • comment avatar Juliann January 23, 2012

    Up is good, but who should be happy about such a low total? I don’t know the statistics for any district, but wouldn’t 70+ be ideal? If it was graded they’d still be flunking.

  • comment avatar Dawn January 23, 2012

    Sadly it probably because they lowered the standards.This is shameful and not really something to be proud of.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson January 23, 2012

    I haven’t seen “Waiting for Superman” and need to put that on my list. But I think most people don’t realize how close to home these issues really are!

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