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City class of 2003 kept getting smaller
43% didn't make it to graduation day Class kept shrinking
WORCESTER, MA  Telegram & Gazette (Daily)
July 14, 2003

by Clive McFarlane

More than 40 percent of Worcester public school class of 2003 students who had been enrolled in the ninth-grade left the school system, were held back or failed to earn a diploma by graduation day.

According to state records, the class of 2003 had 1,979 students enrolled as ninth-graders.By the 11th-grade, however, that enrollment had declined by 535 students, the records show. Between the 11th- and 12th-grade, the class enrollment had declined by 188 more students.Of the 1,256 students who enrolled in the 12th-grade, 136 did not pass the MCAS test, and, as result, did not receive a diploma.

Overall, since the ninth-grade, 858 students, or 43.3 percent of the class of 2003, did not make it to graduation day.These statistics mean that Massachusetts' decision to use high school graduation rates as an added measure of a school district's performance will significantly increase the accountability burden on Worcester and other urban school districts, school officials said.

Under current law, all schools and school districts in the state must make yearly progress on a rating system based on student performance on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests.

Failure to make progress could lead to schools being labeled as "needing improvement," which allows families with children attending those schools to become eligible to transfer to higher-performing schools or get free private tutoring.Besides meeting their adequate yearly progress goals, schools must also show at least a 70 percent high school graduation rate to avoid the "needs improvement" designation.

Initially, the graduation rate will be based on a school's 12th-grade enrollment, but beginning in 2005 it will be based on ninth- through 12th-grade enrollment of the graduating class.School Committee member Brian A. O'Connell said a large number of factors, including the mobility rate of students leaving the system, participation in school choice programs and enrollment in parochial and private schools are involved in the ninth-grade attrition rate.

"It is important to evaluate the school system based on the facts of student performance, but its graduation rate has so many variables that are unrelated or marginally related to academic proficiency, that it would, at best, mislead and, at worst, be punitive to use it to assess and evaluate a school.

"School Committee member Kathleen M. Toomey agreed."We are being penalized for something that we have no control over," she said."Worcester has worked hard over the past decade to reduce our dropout rate and as a school district we will continue to do the best we can.

"We have been held up as a model urban school system in the state, but all these state and federal requirements are becoming the perfect storm. They are coming up with the perfect way of how to destroy a school system.

"Meanwhile the Worcester high school attrition rate appeared heaviest among Asian and Hispanic students.The ethnic breakdown was unavailable for the class of 2003 ninth-grade enrollment, but based on the class's 11th-grade enrollment, about 40 percent of the Asian students enrolled at the 11th-grade level and about 34 percent of the Hispanic students at that grade level did not make it to the 12th grade, or did not obtain a diploma.Of the 133 Asian students enrolled at the 11th-grade level, 85 made it to the 12th grade, with 80 receiving

Among Hispanic students, 343 were enrolled in the 11th grade, 280 made it to the 12th grade, and 227 received diplomas.Conversely, 17 percent of black students and 15.7 percent of white students enrolled in the 11th grade did not make it to the 12th grade or receive a diploma.Students must pass the MCAS tests in English and math to become eligible for a high school diploma, beginning with the class of 2003.