Grand Rapids Public Schools got good news in the recently released graduation rate numbers for the 2018-2019 school year from the Michigan Department of Education, with an increased rate for the eighth consecutive year.
In GRPS schools, the 2018-2019 graduation rate was 76.2 percent, below the statewide average but up 71 percent from where it was in 2012, when under half (44.6%) of GRPS students graduated.
Interim Superintendent Ronald Gorman noted while the district had lots of room for improvement, no district in the state has made the gains GRPS has made in recent years. He attributes that to a wide variety of factors but said that one basic and consistent message to students has been: “If you pass all your classes, you’re going to graduate on time.”
It seems obvious, however, Gorman said, “it took students a while to figure that out.” He added that GRPS schools have done yeoman’s work to help their students figure it out with everyone from school registrars, counselors and secretaries to teachers, parents and their students. All have been encouraged to adopt a growth mindset where a failed assignment or a failed class is not seen as the end of the road but rather an opportunity for improvement and success.
“It’s amazing what happens when everybody comes together,” Gorman said.
The improved GRPS numbers mirror statewide trends. The Michigan Center for Educational Performance and Information (CEPI) noted that Michigan’s 2018-19 school year graduation rate was 81.41 percent, up from 80.64 percent the year before and the highest since graduation rates were first tracked in 2008.
The state trails the national average, however. According to figures released in January 2019 by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, 84.6 percent of the nation’s high school students in the class of 2016-17 graduated in four years.
|Breakdown by subgroup:|
|English Language Learners||32.61%||75.12%|
|Breakdown by school:|
|City High Middle School||96.97%||100.00%|
|Grand Rapids Learning Center* (alternative education)||0.00%||78.13%|
|Southeast Career Pathways* (alternative education)||4.82%||64.52%|
|*Denotes small class size (30 or fewer students)|
**Rate for former Central High School
***2014 rate, first UPrep graduating class
Big Gains for Student Subgroups
In a press release from CEPI, State Superintendent Michael Rice acknowledged that Michigan continues to have room for improvement, particularly for students of color, economically disadvantaged students and special needs students.
But in GRPS, some of the biggest graduation rate gains came from those student populations, including:
- Hispanic/Latino students who have almost a 40 percentage points increase since 2012 (from 42.6% graduating in 2012 to 81.6% graduating in 2019);
- economically disadvantaged students, who have an almost 33 percentage points increase since 2012 (from 40.1% to 72.8%).
Another big gainer was English-language learners, up almost 43 percentage points since 2012 (from 32.6% to 75.1%).
In addition, both City High Middle School and Grand Rapids Montessori High School had a 100 percent graduation rate in 2019.
And while Gorman celebrates those perfect graduation marks, he said that there are still spots in the district where more work needs to be done. That includes Ottawa Hills High School, which improved 13 percentage points since 2012, from 55% to 68.8%, but still lags the district-wide average by a significant margin.
Said Gorman: “(Former GRPS superintendent) Teresa Weatherall Neal used to say ‘We’re only as strong as Ottawa Hills.’ So, we have work to do there. But when I look at Ottawa Hills, I am excited about all that is happening. And if you look at Union’s numbers, at 56 percent in 2014 and almost 90 percent now, I know we can do it at Ottawa Hills too.”