State calculations show 77.2 percent of the class of 2014 graduated from high school in four years, an improvement of 1.2 percentage points from the 2013 class.
The state missed a goal set as part of Gov. Jay Inslee’s initiative to measure government performance that calls for improving by at least two percentage points a year.
“We are making progress, but we have to do something differently to meet our goals in the state of Washington for graduation rates,” Inslee said Wednesday.
Inslee said his budget includes strategies for improvement. Lawmakers are considering the Democratic governor’s plan to ramp up funding for schools a year ahead of a key deadline being enforced by the state Supreme Court in the McCleary case, and a fraction of Inslee’s proposed $2 billion infusion could help students who aren’t on track to meet graduation requirements.
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Wednesday was the first chance for Inslee to review progress toward education goals set a little more than a year ago as part of his Results Washington initiative.
The state is on pace with its goals in some areas. More students met standards on high-school exit exams. More enrolled in online courses at two-year schools.
But high-school graduation rates lagged behind targets. The four-year rate grew only enough to return to its 2012 level.
The statewide rate masked better-than-average improvement for subsets of students who are more likely than average to drop out. Most of those gaps narrowed.
Four-year graduation rates improved in 2014 by 1.3 percentage points for students with disabilities, 1.7 points for low-income and Hispanic students, 2.3 points for Pacific Islanders, 2.4 points for African-American students and 3.3 points for English language learners. Only Native American students didn’t pull closer to the state average.
Foster children, while still the least likely group to graduate within four years at 41.5 percent, saw the biggest jump of 4.9 percentage points.
Another bright spot: More middle-school students are signing up for the College Bound program that offers an early promise of college financial aid to students from low-income families.
The state says 89 percent of eligible seventh-graders and eighth-graders joined the program in the 2013-2014 school year, setting them up for free tuition if they keep decent grades, stay out of trouble and get admitted to college. Foster children are now automatically enrolled.
The state easily exceeded a goal of raising participation to 83 percent from 80 percent the previous year.
More than 212,000 students have signed up since the Legislature created the program in 2007, including Liliana Lopez-Caracoza, who graduates this June from Tacoma Community College.
“I never thought I was going to go to college” until joining the program, Lopez-Caracoza told Inslee and education officials. “That certificate, it made me think that I don’t have to worry about it anymore. I will have college paid for. It’s going to be there.”
The first to attend college in a family that immigrated from Mexico when she was 11 years old, she’s now applying for four-year schools. A law degree is in her sights.
“When you’re on the U.S. or state Supreme Courts, I hope you’ll go easy on us,” Inslee said.