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Graduation rate in Baltimore County among highest of large U.S. districts

Baltimore County had the second-highest graduation rate among large districts in the nation in 2010, according to a report released Thursday that has annually scrutinized graduates differently than most states, which also found that Baltimore City has drastically improved from being among the worst rates in the nation.

The data was published in an annual report compiled by the trade publication “Education Week,” which analyzes high school completion data published by the U.S. Department of Education, and calculates rates based on a formula that seeks to capture how many students obtain a diploma in four years.

For the last decade, that has meant that many states and school districts reported rates higher than Education Week, but Maryland implemented a similar formula last year.

However, this year’s “Diplomas Count” report posted encouraging statistics, finding that in 2010—the most recent federal data available—the nation’s graduation rate was roughly 75 percent, about 2 percentage points shy of surpassing the 77.1 percent record for high school completion.

The 2010 rate represented an 8 percentage point increase for the United States over the last decade.

Maryland’s overall graduation rate in 2010 noted less movement, ranking 17th in the nation at 78.6 percent. Still, researchers said the figure represented steady growth in the last decade.

“The nation as a whole has seen considerable progress,” said Chris Swanson, vice president of research and development at Education Week. “Maryland has seen less progress than the nation as a whole, but they started at a much higher point.”

Swanson said that although the state was named by Education Week as being the No.1 school system in the nation five years in a row, graduation rates—one of more than a dozen indices for the designation—was not a driver.

The state’s No. 1 status is driven by its aggressive and progressive educational policy, he said.

“This is not Maryland’s strongest area,” he said.  “It’s doing better than average, but its improvement is not as fast.”

There was an eight point difference in the rate reported by the state—which reported 87 percent in 2010--and the publication, because the state used a different formula at the time.

Last year, however, Maryland began using a similar calculation, reporting “cohort rates,” which track students from ninth-grade through twelfth grade. Under the new formula, the state reported a 82.8 percent graduation rate in 2011, and an 83.6 percent rate for 2012.

Among the nation’s 50 largest districts, Baltimore County’s 84 percent graduation rate ranked second next to Fairfax County’s 85 percent, and slightly above Montgomery County’s 84 percent.

Baltimore County has ranked among the top 5 in the nation for several years in a row, coming in fourth in last year’s report, when Montgomery County topped the list.

Baltimore City ranked 35th among the nation’s largest districts at 65 percent, but marked considerable progress since the publication began analyzing the federal data.

For example, in 2006, Education Week ranked the district among the worse in the nation, calculating that only in 2003, 38.5 percent of Baltimore's high school students graduating four years.

Additionally, the report found that when considering factors such as poverty and size, the city beat its odds. It gave the district an “expectation index” of a 58 percent graduation rate.

Swanson said that Education Week’s research has noted district’s “dramatic, steady improvements over the years.”

This year's report also featured additional analysis about the number of students, called "recoverable youths," students ages 16-21 who have not received diplomas and are not in school. The report estimated that there were 1.8 million such youths in the nation, and 32,087 in Maryland.

erica.green@baltsun.com

twitter.com/EricaLG

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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