Two-thirds of black students, but only half of Hispanics, graduated from Wilbur Cross High School in four years.
That was one piece of new information that emerged Monday as the state released grades for all Connecticut public schools.
The overall graduation numbers weren’t new; they came from the Class of 2011. But the breakdown was new. And it revealed a new twist on the popular term “achievement gap.”
The information was posted Monday on a new online database the state revealed as part of its new way of grading schools according to its No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) waiver. The state will grade schools annually on a 100-point School Performance Index based on “student achievement, change in student achievement, student growth, college- and career-readiness, subgroup performance and college- and career-readiness, and school climate,” according to a state press release. The rankings are based on two state standardized tests from 2011 and 2012: the Connecticut Mastery Test for grades 3 and 8, and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test for high school sophomores. Click here for a recent story on the new ranking system, and to see which New Haven schools were flagged as high- and low-performers.
Check out the database here to see how New Haven district and charter schools fared. (Note: Click on “CMT” to find K-8 schools; click “CAPT” for high schools.)
The data for each school show a breakdown in performance for five subgroups of kids: poor, black and Hispanic kids, students with disabilities, English-language learners. Schools Superintendent Reggie Mayo said while the state has given those breakdowns for test scores, “I’ve never seen that for graduation rates.”
The data are based on the Class of 2011, not 2012, because the most recent graduation rates have not yet been released. Though they aren’t up to date, they give a glimpse into ongoing challenges, including a gap in black and Hispanic persistence in high schools, based on students in the Class of 2011.
At Wilbur Cross, the city’s largest high school, 48.1 percent of Hispanic students earned a diploma within four years, compared to 65.4 of black students. The 1,290-student school was 47 percent Hispanic and 39 percent black that year.
The city’s second-biggest high school, James Hillhouse, also showed a significant racial gap: one third (33.8 percent) of Hispanic students got a diploma within four years, compared to 55.8 percent of blacks. The school has a smaller sample of Hispanic students, however—there were only 65 in the cohort of kids.
The same gap persisted at the rest of the city’s nine high schools, except Metropolitan Business Academy and High School in the Community (HSC), where Hispanics graduated at a higher rate than blacks, and Sound School, which had too few black students to report that figure.
The state crunched the numbers using the state’s new “four-year cohort graduation rate,” which tracks a cohort of students over four years. The cohort is each school’s group of incoming, first-year freshmen, plus students who transfer in, minus those who transfer to a different school, leave the country or die. Students who earn a GED or take five years to earn a diploma are excluded from the graduation rate.
Jesus Juarez, a Mexican-American senior on track to graduate on time at HSC, said his Hispanic friends have dropped out of high school for two main reasons: motivation and financial pressure.
“I’ve known a lot of people who’ve had to drop out because their families needed the financial support,” he said. One took a job in a factory to support his family, he said.
Reached Tuesday morning, Cross Principal Peggy Moore said she had not seen her school’s graduation rate broken down by race.
“I can’t speak to that because I haven’t seen that,” she said. She said Cross is working with the literacy department and intervention programs to “support all students, not just Hispanics, not just blacks.”
Principal Kermit Carolina (at right in photo) said Hillhouse has long been aware of an achievement gap between black and Hispanic students, predating his arrival as principal in 2010. He shared the nitty-gritty behind the rates made public this week. In the Class of 2011, there were 237 black students: 132 graduated; 69 dropped out; 32 remained at Hillhouse for a fifth year and four were unaccounted for. In that same cohort of kids, there were 65 Hispanics: 32 dropped out; 22 graduated; 8 remained at Hillhouse and three were unaccounted for. Of the 32 Hispanics who dropped out, 21 students left Hillhouse and didn’t enroll into another school. Seven students didn’t graduate on time and didn’t stay at Hillhouse after their fourth year.
The Class of 2011 is the first group of seniors that Carolina and Moore supervised when they became principals. Carolina said dividing the school into four “small learning communities,” and particularly creating separating younger kids into a freshman and sophomore academy, has improved student achievement. The state has not released official graduation rates for the Class of 2012, but Carolina predicted they will show significant gains. He said Hillhouse remains committed to helping all students, including Hispanics: “We want them to feel a part of Hillhouse as much as any other student.”
New Haven’s numbers reflect a larger trend: In Connecticut, 64 percent of Hispanics graduated within four years, compared to 71 percent of blacks and 89 percent of whites, according to a national database using a new, more accurate four-year cohort measurement for the Class of 2011. Though based on a different calculation, data from the National Center for Education Statistics the Class of 2010 showed a similar gap nationwide: 15.1 percent of Hispanics dropped out of high school, which was three times the rate of whites and nearly twice the rate of blacks.
“We’ve long known our Latino students are faring worse than our African-American students,” both on tests and dropout rates, said Patrick Riccards, CEO of the education watchdog group ConnCAN. English-language learning is “not a major driver” behind Latinos dropping out of high school, he said.
Board of Aldermen President Jorge Perez, the city’s highest-ranking Latino elected official, was born in Cuba before his family emigrated here. He went to school in New Haven; his daughter graduated from New Haven schools. He cited mobility, poverty, language barriers, and family structure as some possible reasons for the gap.
“We have an unbelievable issue with teenage pregnancy. I don’t think the school system in general, not necessarily New Haven, is doing as good a job as it could in addressing the specific needs of that population,” Perez said.
“The transient nature of the community is definitely one” factor, he said. “I probably went to seven different elementary schools myself, because my mother always used to move.
“And there’s a lot of back and forth between the state and Puerto Rico. In the immigrant community, some people get deported and then come back.”
Garth Harries, New Haven’s assistant superintendent in charge of school reform, said New Haven has not focused on examining its graduation rates by race. But “we are hyper-conscious about the growing Hispanic population of our schools,” he said. Student achievement among English-language learners, many of whom are Hispanic, is a particular challenge, Harries said.
Demographic data show most Hispanics at Cross were not English-language learners: only 16 percent of overall students were listed in that category. The graduation rate for English-language learners—41.6 percent—was only seven points lower than that of Hispanics, indicating there was a broader problem of low-performance among Hispanics, not a subset whose struggles with English dragged the whole group down.
Harries said New Haven’s English-language-learning and Hispanic students tend to be “highly mobile,” which makes them hard to track. Some may return to Puerto Rico to finish high school, for example, in which case they may get listed as a dropout.
The new state report card gives a performance target for each school on standardized tests and graduation rates. The test scores are based on “below basic,” “basic,” “proficient,” and “goal.” Schools are given an overall score based on how many students score in each category. The new classifications will replace the NCLB sanctions and the “black list” of schools failing to make Adequate Yearly Progress.
The new system asks more of cities, Harries noted: In the past, the state’s NCLB-related mandates focused only on how many kids scored “proficient” on standardized tests. Schools could graduate from a watch list by moving kids from “basic” to “proficient.” That’s analogous to asking students earning Ds to start earning Cs, Harries said. The new system puts more of a focus on how many kids score at goal, which means they’re performing at grade level. Under the new rankings, schools earn points by moving kids not just from basic to proficient, but from below basic to basic, and from proficient to goal.
Superintendent Mayo said because of that shift, schools are now focusing more on the number of kids scoring at grade level on tests.
Mayo and Harries said they haven’t yet had the chance to determine how the state’s rankings match up with the district’s own way of grading schools. New Haven is entering the third year of grading its own schools into three tiers based on student performance, growth, and school climate surveys. Click here to read about last year’s school tiering. The district has not yet released school report cards based on last academic year’s data.