KPS Graduation Numbers Rise
Numbers Are Their Highest Rate Under Current Guidelines
In 2010, President Barack Obama spoke at the Kalamazoo Central High School graduation as the prize in the first annual Race to the Top Commencement Challenge for work toward establishing a college-going culture. It was an historic Kalamazoo moment. That year, our four-year graduation rate was 63.1 percent.
Fast forward eight years from this momentous occasion. In 2018, our four-year graduation rate had risen to 75.2 percent, a 12-percentage-point increase and the highest rate in the district’s history under the current uniform federal graduation rate formula, according to the state’s recent release of graduation rate data.
In the last five years, KPS, considerably poorer than the state as measured by free/reduced-price lunch eligibility, has narrowed the gap with the state in four-year graduation rate by more than half, from 11.8 percentage points to 5.2 percentage points. The state’s four-year graduation rate is 80.6 percent.
Similarly, in 2018, our five-year graduation rate had risen to 80.4 percent, only 2.8 percentage points below the state’s 83.2 percent rate. Since 2014, KPS has narrowed the gap with the state in five-year graduation rate by more than two-thirds, from 8.0 to 2.8 percentage points. KPS’s five-year graduation rate exceeded socioeconomically c o m p a r a b l e districts such as Flint (72 percent), Grand Rapids (70.5 percent), Lansing (65.9 percent), and Saginaw (79.6 percent).
According to data released by the Michigan Center for Educational Performance and Information, 80.6 percent of Michigan students who started public high school in fall 2014 graduated in 2018. Students at KPS’s two traditional high schools exceeded those graduation rates, with Kalamazoo Central graduating 88.9 percent of students and Loy Norrix 82.8 percent of students in that cohort in 2018.
Improvement of four-year and five-year graduation rates is the fifth of the long-term goals established by the Kalamazoo Public Schools Board of Education in January 2009. Thanks to the tremendous efforts of KPS teachers, support staff, administrators, and community members, we have raised our graduation rates steadily over the last several years.
Indeed, if one analyzes average four-year graduation rates by rolling three-year bands (e.g., 2009-11, 2010-2012, and 2011-13 through 2016-18), KPS has increased its four-year graduation rates seven years in a row, from 63.7 percent in 2009-11 to 72.4 percent in 2016-18. If one analyzes average five-year graduation rates by rolling three-year bands, KPS has also increased its five-year graduation rates seven years in a row, from 69.4 percent in 2009-11 to 78.4 percent in 2016-18.
Of particular concern are African American male graduation rates, an area of special attention for us over the last half decade. For five years in a row, KPS has raised African American male four-year graduation rates, from 46.7 percent in 2013 to 61.5 percent in 2018, just 2.6 percent below the state graduation rate of 64.1 percent. Similarly, KPS has increased African American male five-year graduation rates as well, to 66.5 percent in 2018, just shy of the state’s 67.2 percent graduation rate.
One more snapshot: In 2005, just before the announcement of the Kalamazoo Promise, KPS had 454 graduates. In 2018, we had 692 graduates, a 52 percent increase. It is true that our enrollment grew by 25 percent during the same period. It is also true that a good portion of our growth in graduates has to do with improved outcomes, not greater enrollment.
We have worked hard in many ways to improve the numbers of KPS graduates. Many of these efforts to improve the numbers of graduates have also helped to improve our graduation rates. Relatively recent efforts include staff and community multi-student mentoring, begun in 2015. Last year, 413 mentors mentored 1,168 students in 9,572 weekly mentoring sessions. Every administrator in the district has joined me in mentoring students. Gary Start, our deputy superintendent for business, and I have mentored at Phoenix High School since 2015.
In 2013, we restructured and expanded the enrollment of Phoenix. In 2015, we also began culturally responsive education professional development. In 2016, we created the Kalamazoo Innovative Learning Program (KILP), a second alternative high school. KILP will graduate its third graduating class in June.
Below are several initiatives we are watching carefully and which have the potential to increase graduation rates in the district. · Creation and expansion of full-day pre-kindergarten at high-poverty elementary schools in 2013 and 2014. · Expansion of full-day kindergarten from 176 to 962 students in 2008.
· Creation of Lift Up Through Literacy parent education and family literacy programs at sites throughout the community beginning in 2010. These programs have helped thousands of parents and grandparents learn to support their children around literacy.
· Improved curriculum and professional development at all levels in the district since the completion of the district’s curriculum management audit in spring 2008.
· Upper elementary teacher subject specialization beginning in 2010.
· Adoption of new K-5 English language arts materials in 2013.
· Adoption of new K-5 math materials in 2017.
· Adoption of new K-5 writing materials in 2017.
· Distribution of eight books in the summer to all sixth, fifth, fourth, and third graders. Starting in 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2017, respectively. A total of 32,000 books are distributed each summer to students to help combat the summer slide.
We have made very significant progress over the last decade, progress of which we as a school community should be proud.
And yet to paraphrase Robert Frost…miles to go before we sleep.