In a hurry-up afternoon press conference, Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier was able to say today that more of the district's students are graduating on time, fewer are dropping out -- and the improvements include every racial and ethnic student group.
Grier was referring to data collected for the 2009-10 school year, which is factored (a year late) into this year's state accountability ratings by the Texas Education Agency.
"The four-year graduation rate for the HISD Class of 2010 was 74.3 percent, a 4.3-point improvement from the prior year and a 7.2 gain from 2006," Grier said.
An interesting note on the dropout chart was that the percentage of Hispanic dropouts has dipped below the number of African-American dropouts. Historically Hispanic students have had the highest dropout rates in the last five years.
He credited credit recovery grad labs (in which students work at their own pace on computers to pass courses), more Advanced Placement courses in the schools and the work of HISD teachers in improving student retention and graduation.
There was some bad news -- three of the district's 300 schools missed the minimum mark for graduation and dropout rates. Two were Apollo 20 turnaround schools -- Ryan Middle School and Jones High -- as well as Texas Connection Academy, a charter school.
Jones will probably be rated "academically unacceptable" because of its four-year completion rate, Grier said. In response to a question, the superintendent said, "There's no question" that the numbers at Jones and most Apollo schools were better during the 2010-11 school year and predicted better results in next year's overall assessment that will use this year's numbers -- which was the first year of the program for the initial nine Apollo schools.
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Broken down by ethnicity: 87.9 percent of white students graduated in 2010, 74.3 percent of African-Americans and 70.7 percent of Hispanics. In terms of dropout rates: 5.2 percent of white students dropped out compared with 13.8 percent of Hispanic students and 14.4 percent of African American students.
Campus-by-campus numbers were released to the individual schools today and will be released publicly next Monday, Grier said.
Acknowledging that "it sounds kind of counterintuitive, but research also supports this," Grier said that adding tougher courses such as Advanced Placement courses in school keeps kids more interested in attending.
"Research says many of our children drop out of school because they're not challenged. When I came to work here in September of 2009, we had high schools that only offered one Advanced Placement course and others that only offered two to three." He said this increased in the past year and there are plans to increase more in the next school year.