In 2010, Denver Public Schools achieved a graduation rate of 51.8 percent, up from 46 percent the year before. To be sure, the jump in DPS’ graduation rate is significant. DPS claims its rate of graduation grew more than any other school district in Colorado. However, this increase only tells part of the story of what is happening in Denver’s public schools.
Five years ago, when the leadership of Denver Public Schools wrote The Denver Plan, graduation rates were just as big a concern across the District as they are today. The Denver Plan sets a goal of increasing graduation rates by 5 percent each year. DPS met this goal for the 2009/2010 school year. However, The Denver Plan also states that graduation rates will reach 82 percent in 2012.
To gauge DPS’ ability to make progress toward this goal, it is important to first understand that the Colorado Department of Education has two different methods of calculating graduation rates: (1) on-time graduation rates (students who graduate within four years of beginning 9th grade and (2) graduation rates for all students in the system, aka “completers,” regardless of the time it took to graduate.
The DPS graduation rate of 51.8 percent is based on the “new” way of calculating grad rates. However, to assess progress toward the 82 percent graduation rate goal, the old method must be used.
At the end of the 2005/2006 school year, DPS graduated 51.7 percent of its eligible students. Based on the Colorado Department of Education’s previous means of measuring graduation, DPS graduated 53 percent of its students in 2010, 29 points below the goal DPS set for itself for next school year’s graduation rate.
During the period between 2006 and the present, DPS has put great emphasis on creating charter schools that serve smaller student bodies. However, with only one exception, the larger, traditional DPS high schools all graduated percentages of their eligible student bodies at rates higher than DPS’ overall average of 51.8%.
- East High School graduated 81% of its seniors, or 405 students
- Thomas Jefferson High School graduated 78% of its seniors, or 199 students.
- Kennedy High School graduated 77% of its seniors, or 207 students.
- North High School graduated 64% of its seniors, or 155 students.
- South High School graduated 62% of its seniors, or 215 students.
- Montbello High School graduated 56% of its seniors, or 221 students.
- West High School graduated 48% of its seniors, or 119 students.
All graduation data at the school level can be obtained on the CDE web page, 2009-2010 Graduation Rate and Related Data.
Manual High School, the site of DPS’ most strong handed attempts at school reform, is the only neighborhood high school failing to graduate any of it seniors. It is important to note, however, only two seniors were eligible for graduation at Manual.
The top two school in terms of graduating in DPS are magnet schools: the Denver Schools of the Arts and the Denver Center for International Studies. These schools had graduation rates of 97% and 93%, respectively. Next were Martin Luther King Middle College (90%) and Bruce Randolph (85.9%), followed by another magnet program at the Fred N Thomas Career Education Center (85.7%).
Denver School of Science of Technology is the top rated charter school conforming to the DPS reform model. DSST graduated 81% of its students, with a dramatically low remediation rate (for school year 2009. 2010 data are not yet available for DSST).
The next best performers in terms of remediation rates were Denver School of the Arts (19%), East High School (39%), and Thomas Jefferson High School (57%). (Remediation rates for all Denver high schools can be found on EdNews Colorado.)
Dragging down DPS’ overall graduation rate are DPS’ charters and alternative schools, which manage to achieve a graduation rate of about 20 percent. (This number includes DSST.)
During the most recent State of the Union address, President Obama highlighted the success associated with one school in DPS: Bruce Randolph, which graduated 86 percent of students of its high school seniors. While this achievement is laudable, the rate itself has little overall impact on DPS’ district-wide graduation rate.
DPS had 5,083 students in its graduation base in 2010. Of these, 2,634 students graduated as the class of 2010. For Bruce Randolph, 85 students were included in the graduation base, and 73 of them actually graduated, or about 3 percent of the total number of students graduating from DPS.
Also of concern is the remediation rate for DPS graduates. Overall, 59% of DPS’ graduates needed to enroll in some form of academic remedial course work upon entering college. Between the 2005/2006 school year and the 2009/2010 school year, the percent of DPS graduates needing to take remedial course work at the collegiate level has increased from 46% to 59%. (View the district remediation rates reported on EdNews Colorado.) Remedial classes increase the cost for DPS students to attend college because the student gets to pay college tuition rates to review high school level material.
Further, the remediation rates suggest that, while DPS has been able to maintain its graduation rate over the past 5 years, the academic value of a DPS diploma has diminished.
Think of it this way: if the academic rigor associated with graduation requirements is decreased, you would expect to see an increase in the amount of remedial course work a student must take upon entering college. That is exactly what is happening to DPS students: over the past 5 years, about 50% of students graduate from DPS but an increasing number of those students need remedial classes to succeed in college.
Backing up the remediation data are CSAP results for 10th graders, the last grade in which CSAPs are administered. Still, only 17% of all DPS 10th graders are proficient or above in math, up from 15% in 2006. In writing, 29% of 10th graders are proficient or above, which is the same as 2006. In reading, 50% are proficient or above, up from 44% in 2006.
DPS has continued to show a wide gap in academic performance between minority students and their white counterparts.
- Sixty-one percent of white students graduated in 2010. However, 54% of African American and 48% of Latino students graduated.
- In math, 63% of white students were proficient or above on the 2010 CSAP. Just 45% of African Americans and 40% of Latinos were proficient or above.
- In writing, 62% of white students were proficient or above on the 2010 CSAP. Meanwhile, 29% of African Americans and 26% of Latinos were proficient or above.
- The 10th grade CSAP scores in reading tracked in much the same manner, with 63% of whites proficient or above and 28% of African Americans and 32% of Latinos at the same mark.
Taken in total, these numbers appear to tell a stark story about how far DPS has to go to improve as well as how relatively little it has been able to achieve under the reform plan dictated by The Denver Plan.