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High School Graduation Rates Improve in Massachusetts

According to new data, 4-year high school graduation rates in Massachusetts are on the increase, while the dropout rate is on the decline.

State officials recently announced that the 4-year graduation rate has improved in the Bay State for the sixth year in a row. JC Considine, a spokesman for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said that the statewide dropout rate also decreased to 2.5% in the last school year.

According to the Cohort Graduation rate, some of the largest gains in the 4-year graduation rate were made by Hispanic students, a group that improved by about 4 percentage points to 65.5%. African American Students improved by about 3 percentage points to 73.4%, and students with special needs and disabilities graduated at 68.6%. That’s up 3 percentage points from the previous year.

Currently, the average Massachusetts graduation rate for public schools stands at 84.7%

JC Considine said that all of the work is attributed to local school districts, but the state has helped in some ways by giving tools to school districts that allow them to identify risk factors in students from early in their education careers.

But also, the state credited some of the success to a $15 million federal grant received through te High School Graduation Initiative in 2010 to support the MassGrad program – an initiative designed to prevent high school dropouts by intervening and allowing students to take credit recovery classes.

Pittsfield Public Schools, which has also seen an increase in graduation rates in recent years, works with Berkshire Works, a Massachusetts One Stop Career Center, to coordinate the MassGrad program.

Melanie Gelaznik, a manager of program operations at Berkshire Works, says that the students who use the career center as a place to make up credits enjoy the environment outside of the traditional classroom.

Gelaznik also said that the MassGrad students also participate in activities outside of schoolwork that keeps them engaged and has proven to keep some on track for graduation.

Gelaznik also said the program includes college readiness programs, including visits with the nearby Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams

The next MassGrad program at Berkshire Works will begin on Monday.

But although the improvement schools is welcomed by Governor Deval Patrick, he made it clear in his FY 2014 budget proposal and recent State of the Commonwealth Speech that there is more to be done.

The governor has submitted a budget to the legislature that in part would expand learning times for middle school students in gateway cities, and make early childhood education open to all by eliminating wait lists.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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