Southwest, Washburn graduation rates remain steady

Minneapolis Public Schools

Graduation rates in Southwest Minneapolis remained well above the citywide rate and on par with the statewide rate in 2017, though they appeared to level off slightly.

Nearly 88 percent of Southwest High School students and 82.3 percent of Washburn High School students graduated on time last year, according to Minneapolis Public Schools. The district published the data Feb. 27 in conjunction with the Minnesota Department of Education’s statewide release of graduation rates.

Both schools had rates well above the districtwide rate of 66 percent and on par with the state rate of 82.7 percent. Washburn’s grad rate increased about three-quarters of a percentage point, marking at least a fifth straight year the school saw a rate increase. Southwest’s decreased about 1.6 percentage points from 89.6 percent in 2016, but it was still well above the school’s 2012 graduation rate of 79.9 percent.

Both schools had seven-year graduation rates of over 91 percent in 2017, meaning that over nine in 10 students who started high school in fall 2010 had graduated by last spring.

The district did not release school-by-school graduation rates for specific demographic groups. But districtwide, minority students continued to graduate at rates significantly lower than white students. Nearly 86 percent of white students graduated on time, for example, but just 56.9 percent of black students and 56.7 percent of Hispanic students graduated on time.

In a news release, the district reported that nearly 73 percent of its students graduated within seven years, a rate it said is its highest on record. It also noted its diverse student population, which includes significantly more English learners and students receiving free or reduced-price lunch than most districts in Minnesota, according to Education Department data.

Minneapolis’ chief of academics, leadership and learning, Michael Thomas, said in the release that many of the district’s newcomers to the U.S. are often unable to graduate in four years. The district also has many students who participate in Transition Plus programming, Thomas said, which is designed to help students transition to adulthood and independent living.

In the release, Superintendent Ed Graff noted that the district’s graduation rate has increased over the past six years, though its four-year graduation rate declined by over 1 percentage point in 2017.

Graff pointed to improvements in the district’s credit-recovery opportunities and ninth grade on-track efforts, which he said has led to more ninth-graders passing core courses. He asked what the district could do to see the same gains achievement that it’s seen in graduation.

Less than half of MPS students in grades 3–10 earned scores deemed proficient on their standardized state reading and math tests in 2017, according to district data. Those percentages have remained relatively flat over the past five years.

The district news release noted efforts to better prepare students for college and career, which include cultivating literacy in grades K–12, expanding student-support systems, increasing credit-recovery opportunities and improving ninth grade on-track efforts.

The release said that the data do not reflect the success of Minneapolis’ school-within-a-school programs, which offer flexible programming to accommodate students’ diverse life situations. The four-year graduation rate would rise to 89 percent at Southwest, for example, if those students were included, the district said.

Hispanic students made the biggest gain in graduation rates in 2017, according to the district, graduating at a rate nearly 6.1 percentage points higher than in 2016. A new demographic category, students of two or more races, saw a rate increase from 63.6 percent in 2016 to 76.2 percent in 2017.

English learner and special-education students also made gains in 2017. Over 57.8 percent of EL students graduated, up nearly 4 percentage points from 2016, and 38.9 percent of special education students graduated, up about 4.5 percentage points.

Wellstone, which serves almost entirely EL students, posted the largest percentage-point increase of the district’s 10 community high schools. It graduated 15.6 percent of students on time in 2017 after graduating 8.3 percent on time in 2016.

North had the largest percentage-point drop among the community high schools, graduating 70 percent of students on time in 2017 after graduating 80.3 percent on time in 2016.

FAIR had the highest on-time graduation rate of any community high school at 89.1 percent.