Tacoma Public Schools is poised to set an ambitious goal: Make sure that by 2020, its graduation rate reaches 85 percent – a full 17 percentage points higher than its most recent on-time graduation rate.
“There is a tremendous amount of work to do. We understand that,” said school board member Kurt Miller. “In order to get to 85 percent, the community has got to be involved with us.”
Tacoma’s 2012 on-time graduation rate was nearly 68 percent, an increase of about 6 percentage points from 2011. Despite the improvement, the district lags the most recently reported statewide graduation rate of nearly 77 percent and the national average of 78 percent.
Tacoma reported initial graduation rate data for the class of 2012 in January. On Thursday night the school board heard more details. Among them:
• While 24 percent of students who should have graduated with the class of 2012 dropped out, another 8 percent were still attempting to complete enough credits to graduate.
• There are more than 1,300 Tacoma high school seniors who need to either retake a state test or submit classroom work to prove subject knowledge so they can meet state requirements to graduate with the class of 2013. Deputy Superintendent Josh Garcia told board members that other school districts are reporting similar trends.
Board members took note of statistics first reported in January that mirror national trends. For example, those least likely to graduate include students of color and students who come from low-income families.
Board member Karen Vialle, a former substitute teacher in Tacoma, said she’s heard about children with no place to do homework because they’re living with their family in a car.
“It makes you understand why there’s an achievement gap,” she said.
She added that the seeds for dropping out of high school can be sown early in a child’s school career, especially if kids start kindergarten without the same basic skills as their peers.
Superintendent Carla Santorno said the district is tracking student attendance rates with the understanding that poor attendance also plays a role.
Board members expect to establish a graduation rate goal at their meeting Feb. 28. The target put forward Thursday was 85 percent.
“I support the goal,” board member Catherine Ushka said. “I think it’s ambitious. I think we can do it.”
She also said she wants the community to know that setting such a goal doesn’t mean the district will overlook the remaining 15 percent of students. Educators are working to develop strategies to reach them.
Garcia said the district has established a new centralized office for graduation support that can help students navigate the smorgasbord of options throughout Tacoma’s high schools.
This month, families with high school seniors who are not on track to graduate this year will be notified by certified mail. Also this month, the district is launching a program called iCAN. It’s for seniors who need credits to graduate on time, and it provides support for students enrolled in online classes.
Stadium High School has a new initiative called Fresh Focus, aimed at giving freshmen the academic skills they need to be successful. Eighth-grade teachers identify incoming freshmen who are at risk because of previous course failures and discipline referrals.
In November, the school board adopted a policy that allows students to earn high school credits in new ways. For example, students whose native or heritage language is something other than English, or who have learned another language outside school, can pass one of several recognized tests and earn world language credits.
Also, students who participate in school or community sports programs might be eligible to earn physical education credits.
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635