High School graduation rates in Florida for the class of 2015 were the highest in 12 years, according to figures released by the state Department of Education.
That 77.8% statewide graduation mark is up more than 18 points since the 2003-04 school year, and nearly two percent higher than last year. The Escambia County district's 2014-15 graduation rate came in at 72.7%, up from 66.1% in 2013-14, and 15 points from 2010-11.
“It’s a great day, great day to celebrate the work of our students, and the families that expected those students to start high school in the ninth grade and four years later, exit with a diploma,” said Escambia County Superintendent Malcolm Thomas.
The thing about grad rates, says Thomas, is that work to raise them usually don’t bear fruit until a few years later.
“Back in 2009 when I first took office, one of the first things we implemented was a system of career academies,” Thomas said. “We knew that career academy students tend to graduate from high school on time, and at a higher rate, than students that aren’t connected.”
Escambia County surpassing 70% is a significant improvement from five years ago, when its 57.7% mark was among the lowest in the state. Attempts to raise the rate even higher actually began in the last term, including ‘graduation coaches’ for struggling students, and two summer school programs in June and July.
Santa Rosa County’s graduation rate also jumped, from 82.8% to 83.2%. That’s also up nearly five and a half percent from 2010-11. Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick credits a plan implemented five years ago, when it was realized that grad rates are not the sole responsibility of the high schools.
“We began to look downward and align our curriculum needs and curriculum expectations from kindergarten all the way through 12th grade,” Wyrosdick said. “Getting students to third grade and above reading proficiency is a huge effort. And we make certain that is a high priority.”
For the current school year, Santa Rosa is providing a curriculum that’s more diverse and applicable to their needs, including the expansion of career academies district-wide, similar to that in Escambia County.
Further east, Okaloosa County’s 82.4% rate is down 0.1 percentage points from 2013-14 to last year. Spokesman Steve Horton says they thought the district would have a higher rate, but they still feel good overall.
“As a whole [OCSD] is 14th in the state among 67 districts,” said Horton. “But we’re certainly working with our Dropout Prevention Program, and a re-write this year to help improve those numbers.”
Graduation rates among African-Americans and Hispanics are also up since 2010-11, at 9.3% and 7.3%, respectively.
BOE measures the percentage of students who graduate within four years of their first enrollment in the ninth grade. Those earning GEDs, special diplomas or certificates of completion are not counted.