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CPS posts this year's graduation rates

Chicago Public Schools announced Wednesday that 19,905 of the 30,449 students who entered ninth grade in fall 2008 and completed graduation requirements by this summer are now high school graduates. The district is reporting a 65.4 percent five-year graduation rate, which includes the nearly 50 students who finished requirements this summer.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett had projected in late May that 63 percent of its seniors would graduate, calling that an all-time record and celebrating that the final rate exceeded projections.

But how to jibe that with state records that had CPS four-year graduation rates at 68.5 percent for students who entered ninth grade in fall 2008?

CPS counts graduation using the first school a 9th grader attends, so students entering CPS in 10th grade and staying through graduation are be counted, according to district officials who say that’s a more rigorous method of counting.

The Illinois State Board of Education counts from the last school a student attends. ISBE has not yet released statewide graduation rates for the 2012-13 school year, but reported an 82.3 percent statewide rate for 2011-12 compared to a 68.5 percent rate for CPS. In 2010-11, ISBE reported a 73.8 graduation rate for CPS compared to 83.8 the year before for the whole state.

CPS says its 2012-13 65.4 percent graduation rate improved from a 61.2 percent rate in 2011-12. The 2010-11 school year saw 58 percent of freshman making it to graduation, according to CPS. A decade ago the same graduation rate was 44 percent.

District and union officials alike lauded the improvements but credited different sources.

“As a city, we all have a shared responsibility to empower our children through education, and this graduation rate is a testament to our hard-working students, educators, administrators and community, but we know there is more to do,” schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a press release. “With a full school day for all students, investments in early education, a full day of kindergarten, a rigorous curriculum tied to Common Core State Standards and increasing investments in STEM and IB programs, we will keep building on this momentum to ensure every child in every neighborhood has access to a 21st Century education that prepares them for success in college, career and in life.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the graduation rate “a testament to the dedication and hard work of our students, teachers, principals and parents who stayed focused, engaged, and energized around the importance of finishing high school for a brighter future. We will continue to make critical investments in our students and their learning, because while these results are good, we still have a ways to go to ensure every child has access to a quality education that will maximize his or her unlimited potential.”

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis also praised the graduates:

“We are so proud of the work everyone has done. It is a testament to the perseverance through an especially difficult year,” she said in an email.

“This does not distract from the fact that neighborhood high schools are subject to draconian cuts which could affect progress,” she continued, referring to neighborhood school claims that they were losing teachers and programs under a new budgeting system.

“Before anyone wants to rain on this parade by focusing on those who didn’t finish, let’s examine the fact that there are few jobs waiting for them,” Lewis said.

CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin added: “Dedicated teachers and school staffs should be credited with the rise in CPS graduation rates, because it is they who are the most consistent in these students’ academic careers.

“It should be noted that the recent STEM/IB rollouts have nothing to do with the reportedly high graduation rates because the most recent graduates did not get to participate significantly in those efforts,” she continued. “Further, a 4 percent year-over-year jump seems suspicious; however, whatever jump there is has to be attributed to the people on the ground (teachers, support staff, administrators) rather than the district efforts at the top. None of these new programs were in place long enough to get traction…The massive cuts across the district will also hamper future graduation rates, as class sizes increase and experienced educators are terminated. We won’t see the effects of the cuts for possibly years.”

CPS also touted $400 million in scholarships awarded to CPS students, a jump of $133 million from a year ago.