There are many factors to consider when evaluating the quality of education provided by a school district. For example, although often overlooked, the development of social-emotional skills is extremely important to a comprehensive education but difficult to capture with a meaningful metric. An easily measured indicator that typically receives the most attention is the graduation rate.
Taken at face value, graduation rates offer a seemingly simple comparison between school districts. With closer examination, these figures are more complex than they may appear. Many are unaware that there are two different graduation rates and what the differences are.
A recently published story compared Hudson’s 80% graduation rate to other local school districts. This side-by-side comparison used “district graduation rates” supplied by the New York State Education Department (available online at https://data.nysed.gov). The district graduation rate is the percentage of students in a specific cohort, or group who entered 9th grade the same year, who graduate on time four years later. For Hudson, this means that 80% of all our students who started 9th grade in 2014 graduated on time in June 2018.
However, district graduation rates do not provide completely accurate representations of our schools. They are calculated based on all students in a cohort, even if some of those students attended school elsewhere for most or all of their high school years for justifiable reasons.
For example, the district graduation rate includes students in full-day alternative learning programs outside of the Hudson City School District (such as Tech Valley High School, Warren Street Academy or special education programs in other settings appropriate to individual student needs). Because students in full-day alternative programs do not attend classes at their respective local high schools, it is misleading to evaluate the quality of a school’s education based on the overall district graduation rate. This is especially true for a district like Hudson, which has a greater population of students who require or benefit from an alternative school setting.
The “building graduation rate,” on the other hand, is based on the students who regularly attend classes at their home high school. It does not include out-of-district students who attend full-day alternative learning programs in other locations. The building graduation rate provides a more accurate representation of our schools because it is solely based on students who attend classes at Hudson High School. This figure represents students who are directly impacted by HCSD teachers, curricula and programs.
If we look at the 2018 building graduation rate for Hudson High School, the figure changes from 80% (district rate) to 87% (building rate). This means that 87% of students at HHS who began their freshman year in September 2014 graduated on time in June 2018. If we include students who graduated in August (just two months after their cohort), the rate increases from 87% to 89 percent.
Despite the differences between district and building graduation rates, Hudson has made remarkable progress over the years in both categories. For the first time in nearly a decade, Hudson’s district graduation rate as of June is equal to the New York State average (80%) and the building graduation rate for HHS exceeds the state average.
The growth in our graduation rates is a tremendous accomplishment based on the hard work and dedication of our Bluehawk faculty, students and families. Our taxpayers also deserve recognition and thanks for this growth due to the support of our annual school budgets that fund our programs and daily operations. Together, we’ve been able to provide the programming and supports needed to guide our students to Destination Graduation.
As I’ve said before, we want to be better than average. We are proud that our graduation rates have increased over the past seven years, from 59% (district) and 61% (building) in 2012, but we will not be complacent. Now, our Vision 2020 goal to achieve a district graduation rate of 85% or higher is within our reach. And we intend to keep climbing!
Hopefully this provides a new perspective on public school graduation rates in our state. While it’s important to look at districts as wholes, we should not overlook the building graduation rates that more accurately reflect the hard work of educators and students within their respective high schools.
This column was published in the Register-Star on March 12, 2019.