Tacoma Public Schools announced Thursday that graduation rates are climbing — just not quite as high as preliminary state data first indicated.
The graduation rate for the class of 2012 was up about 6 percent from the previous school year, to 67.6 percent, district officials said. Unreleased state data had erroneously put the rate at 74 percent, they added.
Corrected or uncorrected, Tacoma’s graduation rate falls below the state average reported for 2011, which was 76.6 percent.
Tacoma Superintendent Carla Santorno said in a news release that she is pleased with Tacoma’s upward trend but wants to do better.
She added that “we are not at all satisfied with our current results.”
Santorno said she wants to change the system to “get more of our students to the finish line.”
Toward that end, she announced administrative changes and a reorganization of the district’s central office. Current Middle School Director Krestin Bahr will lead a new center designed to support graduation and re-engage students.
Data released Thursday by the school district also showed that students who spent their entire high school years in Tacoma did better than students who transferred in from elsewhere. The start-to-finish Tacoma kids recorded a graduation rate of 79 percent, while only half the students who started high school somewhere else and transferred here managed to graduate from a Tacoma high school.
In addition, the data showed:
• About two-thirds of Tacoma’s high school students receive free or reduced-price lunches — a widely used poverty indicator.
• Students in poverty had a graduation rate of 59 percent, while 80 percent of their more affluent peers graduated.
• Girls did better than boys, with 73 percent of girls graduating on time, compared with only 62 percent of boys.
• Graduation rates also varied among ethnic groups: 74 percent for white students, 72 percent for Asian students, 63 percent for multiracial students, 59 percent for black students, 57 percent for Hispanic students, 52 percent for Pacific Islanders and 49 percent for Native Americans.
District officials said they released Tacoma’s corrected graduation rates early, so that they could let the school board and the public know in advance about the error in the state report that’s coming soon.
Pat Cummings, Tacoma director of research and evaluation, said he contacted state data keepers after noticing aberrations in the preliminary numbers that didn’t match previous trends.
He said the state acknowledged the problem and said the school district was not at fault.
The state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) plans to release statewide data on 2012 graduation rates “within the next few weeks,” said OSPI spokeswoman Kristen Jaudon.
And those numbers will contain the Tacoma mistake because OSPI doesn’t have the resources to immediately correct it, she added.
School board members heard about the numbers glitch at a meeting last week.
Deputy Superintendent Josh Garcia said then that another complication clouding the data picture is that the state has changed the way graduation rates are calculated. Some of those changes are being driven by the federal government. The U.S. Department of Education has tried to standardize how graduation rates are calculated so state-by-state comparisons and comparisons over time are more accurate.
In January, the department reported that 78.2 percent of U.S. high school students graduated on time in 2010. That marked the highest rate since 1974, according to the department.
Jaudon said the mistake in the Tacoma data may have occurred because students who switched schools within the district were shown as leaving one school, but their new school wasn’t identified. They could have been mistakenly counted as students who moved out of Tacoma, making the overall pool of potential Tacoma graduates seem smaller than it really was.
Cummings called the problem “an unfortunate coding issue.” He worked with state officials to review data student by student so Tacoma could get accurate graduation rates.
Jaudon said OSPI will do more analysis to try to solve the problem. She also said her office plans to develop more training materials for districts to ensure more consistency in student data recording.
Tacoma School Board member Karen Vialle said at last week’s board meeting that accuracy is important because the board will be setting goals based on what’s being reported now.
“The numbers have to be good,” she said. “These are the numbers we will be using as we move forward with our goal setting.”
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635