Chicago Public Schools graduation rate hits record high

CPS leaders also said that nearly 89% of last year’s freshmen are on track to graduate. This measure reflects how many freshmen are passing their core classes.

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Chicago Public Schools Chief Education Officer Bogdana Chkoumbova looks on as CEO Pedro Martinez speaks to students and staff at Gage Park High School to celebrate the district’s four-year high school graduation rate for the Class of 2022.

Chicago Public Schools Chief Education Officer Bogdana Chkoumbova looks on as CEO Pedro Martinez speaks to students and staff at Gage Park High School to celebrate the district’s four-year high school graduation rate for the Class of 2022.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools officials are celebrating a record high four-year high school graduation rate of 82.9% for the Class of 2022, up from 80.2% last year and 77% five years ago.

CPS leaders also said that nearly 89% of last year’s freshmen are on track to graduate, returning to pre-pandemic levels, after dipping last year. This measure reflects how many freshmen are passing their core classes.

At an assembly at Gage Park High School on Monday morning, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez applauded the “resiliency” seen during the pandemic, calling it a “difficult period for our families, our staff and our students.”

“While we have many initiatives that we can credit, first we want to really give credit where credit’s due, and that is to our CPS staff and our amazing students,” he said.

The graduation and freshmen on-track announcement is welcome news in a week where disappointing state and national test score results were announced. Earlier Monday, national elementary reading and math test results showed years of growth in reading and math in Chicago Public Schools were wiped away during the pandemic. Scores on the tests known as the Nation’s Report Card reverted to levels last seen more than a decade ago.

In addition, state officials said test score averages for Illinois students, which will be released Thursday, have not recovered to pre-pandemic levels. But they say student test scores improved at an accelerated rate this year compared to before the pandemic. Martinez acknowledged that both elementary and high school results are down.

Still, the CPS CEO and CPS Chief Education Officer Bogdana Chkoumbova said they are not worried students may be graduating from high school without being proficient in reading or math. Chkoumbova highlighted studies that show grades, more than test scores, are predictors for student performance in college.

She called high-stakes test scores important, but she is shifting the focus in CPS from these tests to data that is central to practices in schools, such as grades.

The school district has not published attendance rates yet, but there’s much consternation about high absenteeism among students last year. Martinez said he is confident schools have systems in place to help students stay on track.

“What it shows me is that students and teachers are working together to help students navigate,” he said.

Martinez and Chkoumbova highlighted the performance of neighborhood high schools, as they say one of their goals is to make them more attractive to students. Chkoumbova pointed to several neighborhood schools that have seen impressive increases in graduation and on-track rates, even if they have yet to reach the district average.

Martinez announced that CPS is going to review the programs in every CPS high school. He said the district will work with principals to understand their vision for their school and help make it happen.

He then addressed students at the Gage Park High School assembly, telling them that he too attended a CPS neighborhood high school.

“We see you, and we will continue to invest because you have all the potential,” he said. “This is just the beginning.”

Gage Park had the second highest freshman on-track rate, nearly 98%, among neighborhood schools and also saw its graduation rate improve.

Gage Park principal Tameka Bell said students set goals every quarter. And students with high attendance and grades are honored and part of the school’s swag club.

She also touted support from the central office, such as data that helps direct instruction and systems that help schools understand what students need.

Gage Park sophomore Nadia Sanders said feeling like she has a voice in the classroom keeps her motivated.

“Teachers and students have been very supportive and responsive to each other,” she said. “They’re very helpful to me in my classes and show a great deal of care overall.”

Kenwood Academy also was highlighted. It has one of the highest graduation rates, 93.5%, among neighborhood schools, and one of the highest freshmen on-track rates at 90%.

Principal Karen Calloway, one of several principals at the assembly, attributed the school’s success to high expectations and a focus on making school a home away from home.

Classes, she said, are just as important as after-school and out-of-school activities, such as going on college tours.

“School should be fun,” said Calloway.

Martinez highlighted the four-year graduation rate, rather than the five-year rate, which the district focused on historically, as researchers find it more accurately reflects who graduates over time. The 2022 five-year graduation rate is 84%, up from 83.8%.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.

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