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What's a Remarkable Grad Rate? For Latinos? For ELLs?


In critiquing a 17 percent decrease in the dropout rate in Los Angeles over the course of one year, Eduflack notes that folks shouldn't be too excited about the decline in the number of dropouts, given that the dropout rate for Los Angeles schools is still 26.4 percent. "Readers of the LA Times [which reported the 17 percent decrease] should be horrified that a quarter of students are dropping out long after they are pleased with a 5.3 percent reduction in the number of drop outs," Patrick Riccards of Eduflack says.

My colleague Catherine Gewertz over at High School Connections had a similar reaction when she heard that Valley High School in Las Vegas had been named a high-achieving turnaround school, when it had a graduation rate of 55 percent. She questioned whether the school shouldn't need a higher graduation rate for it to be held out as a model of achievement for other schools.

Both the Los Angeles School District and Valley High School have large numbers of Latino students, so their graduation rates are linked to the fact that Latinos are more likely than other ethnic and racial groups to drop out of school.

As I've read Eduflack's and Gewertz's observations, I've been thinking to myself, "What would be considered a commendable graduation rate for a school with a lot of Latinos and ELLs?"

As I've mentioned recently on this blog, in the school district in Brownsville, Texas, where almost all students are Latino, the graduation rate is not much over half of students—53 percent. For ELLs, it's 27 percent. I couldn't find anyone in Brownsville when I visited in 2008 who thought those rates were good ones.

I've only ever visited one school that was proud of its graduation rate for English-language learners. That was Brooklyn International High School in New York City. When I visited in 2007, the four-year grad rate for students who were still ELLs at graduation was 65 percent.

What do you think? Would it be commendable if all school districts could reach a graduation rate of 65 percent for ELLs?

If you know of a school, or even better, if you know of a school district that has a remarkable graduation rate for English-language learners or Latinos, please let all of us know.


Mary Ann, the question of what is a commendable graduation rate (the 65% you cite is only a four year graduation rate) is important.
We are very eager to learn of other successes. Not only do Brooklyn International and other Internationals Network High Schools have commendable four year graduation rates, but their graduation rates increase markedly in year 5+ because Internationals students drop out at significantly lower rates than in their home district (single digits). Thus, some students graduate in longer time frames. We consider it reasonable that all students do not graduate in four years given that students face triple challenges of learning rigorous academic content, a new culture and a new language and that a subsection of our students face steeper challenges due to seriously interrupted (or non-exisitent) formal education.
A national conversation about what is working and where, and what the correct benchmarks are for our population of students, and how to achieve these benchmarks is critically needed. A further consideration is, are students graduating "college ready"? And what is "college-readiness" in general and for our population? Is college readiness the only or ultimate goal? What about preparing students to be full and productive participants in democratic society? How important and integral is doing this to our work? Thank you for raising these important questions.

How could I forget to point out that Brooklyn International has posted an overall 4 year graduation of approximately 80% for the last three years with 90% going on to college and that it was the top rated school in NYC this year on NYC Progress reports? And for those who don't know, every student admitted to Brooklyn International (and any Internationals Network high school) is a recently arrived English language learner on entry into the school. At Brooklyn International, about 90% of students are eligble for free/reduced lunch.

As a bilingual teacher in Texas, I have long suspected that low graduation rates are stemmed more from students having to exit early from bilingual programs. Every school has varied curric. Some schools teach more in English, even though the students are identified as ELL. It is very important that we follow the research. Students who have strong content instruction in their L1 typically feel more successful in school and then go on to remain in school. Ask yourself, how many schools are very quick to exit students from bilingual programs earlier and earlier? How many schools also are teaching primarily in English in bilingual programs and ignoring best practice teaching with regard to Spanish instruction. My students that excelled in Spanish went on to great things in later years in high school because they had strong understanding in their L1 and were able to make the connections to L2.

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