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Michigan high school graduation lags national rate

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Michigan’s high school seniors are graduating in increasing numbers but the statewide rate still is below that of the nation as a whole.

The Great Lakes State’s rate for the 2014-15 school year is 79.8 percent, up 1.21 percentage points from the previous year. That’s 3.4 percentage points below the record national rate of 83.2, announced Monday by the federal Department of Education.

This marks the fourth consecutive year that four-year graduation rates have improved, according to federal data.

The Michigan Department of Education said it is pleased with the results, but a spokesman says more work needs to be done.

“Significant factors which we attribute increases in high school graduation rates to are the implementation of the more rigorous Michigan Merit Curriculum and high school graduation requirements (implemented beginning with the class of 2011), combined with a required college entrance exam, first given as part of the high school state assessment in 2007,” spokesman William Disessa said. “Add to this teachers and students stepping up in the classroom.”

He said the Michigan Merit Curriculum has helped prepare more students for careers or college and increased college entrance exam scores. That has helped more students to go to college and graduate, Disessa said.

“While this is good news, we know we have more work to do to continue to improve graduation rates along with math and reading scores,” Disessa said, adding the department is looking at making changes to its assessment system.

Utica Superintendent Christine Johns said her school district’s graduation rate continues to go up, reflecting “high expectations of every member of our school district community.”

“Working with our families, Utica Community Schools principals and teachers have made deliberate efforts — particularly in 9th grade — to make sure our students are on track for not only graduation, but also that they are well prepared for successful post-secondary experiences,” she said.

Nearly every state has improved since 2010-11. Between school years 2013-14 and 2014-15, the District of Columbia made the greatest progress in the nation, by 7 percentage points.

For the 2014-15 rates, progress was reported for all groups of students, including students of color, low-income students, students with disabilities and English language learners.

Despite the increase in the national graduation rate, test scores are declining.

Last year, math scores for fourth and eighth graders dropped for the first time in 25 years on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress — also known as the Nation’s Report Card. Reading scores were not much better: flat for fourth-graders and lower for eighth-graders compared with 2013. Average scores on SAT and ACT college entrance exams have also shown declines.

The growth in graduation rates has been steady since states adopted a uniform way of tracking students. In 2008, the George W. Bush administration ordered states to begin using a formula that is considered a more accurate count of how many students finish school.

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The Associated Press contributed

Largest districts’ rates

Graduation rates for the 10 largest school districts in the state, considered to be 1,200 to 3,300 students seniors. All but two improved their graduation rates, according to the Michigan Center for Eduational Performance and Information.

■Detroit City School District 77.35 percent

■Utica Community Schools 92.44 percent

■Plymouth-Canton Community Schools 89.59 percent

■Dearborn City School District 89.88 percent

■Ann Arbor Public Schools 88.61 percent

■Warren Consolidated Schools 82.38 percent

■Livonia Public School District 91.40 percent

■Chippewa Valley Schools 91.76 percent

■Rochester Community School District 96.19 percent

■Walled Lake Consolidated Schools 90.29 percent.