English High leads the way on increasing graduation rates

Boston Public Schools (BPS) experienced the highest four-year graduation rate for the district on record, according to information released by state officials reporting graduation data for the 2019-20 school year. Boston showed a 2.2 percentage point increase in the four-year cohort graduation rate, rising from 73.2% in 2019 to 75.4% in 2020 – with JP’s English High School leading the way over the past six years.

      The BPS graduation rate has increased nearly nine percentage points since 2014.

      Over the last six years, The English High School in Jamaica Plain has seen its graduation rate increase nearly 30 percentage points, from 52.3% in 2015 to 81.8% in 2020. Last year English High, celebrating its 200th anniversary later this year, achieved a four-year graduation rate above the district rate and an increase of 4.9 percentage points from last year. District and school administrators point to creativity with autonomy and scheduling for improved student outcomes.

      Students have an intervention and enrichment block every day where they can meet with any teacher or counselor for support and additional skill development. Any student with a grade below 70% must meet with their teacher in that subject during this period. Students can choose from a course catalog with the opportunity to trace a theme over the course of a semester. Students are also able to choose from a course catalog to enroll in various electives. In addition, English offers an online credit recovery program led by an English High School alum, who acts as an advisor and mentor to keep students engaged.

      “At English, we have shifted our practice to a relentless focus on student data. Our academic and student support teams are constantly reviewing student progress to ensure that all staff members are looking at both social-emotional supports and academic supports to provide students with an individualized plan based on their needs,” said Caitlin Murphy, English High’s Head of School, who started teaching at the school in 2009 and became school leader in 2018. “We remain committed to providing opportunities for our students to become more engaged in their schedules and coursework by increasing student choice and agency in their learning. Our students are excited about coming to school because once they’re with us, we know how to support them.”

      The entire district saw increases in four-year graduation rates for multiple student groups, including increases between two and three percentage points for Black, Latinx, and white students. The four-year graduation rate increased for male and female students, with female students having a graduation rate of over 12 percentage points higher than males.

      The annual dropout rate for Boston decreased by 0.3 percentage points, from 4.2% in the 2018-19 school year to 3.9% in the 2019-20 school year, representing 58 fewer students dropping out than in 2019. Most major student groups experienced a decrease in dropout rates, including English Learners. The dropout rate for students learning English decreased from 7.8% to 6.3% in 2020.

      “Our students demonstrated their resolve and determination last spring, meeting their targets and earning their diplomas. I am proud of our students and grateful for our staff, who rallied to mobilize support for our students, particularly our most vulnerable learners and students who needed the extra boost to stay on track for graduation,” said BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius. “But we know there is still work to do. We must close all opportunity gaps and not let our kids fall behind. Boston Public Schools is committed to holding our students to a high standard. We are increasing rigor across our schools and continuing our high school redesign work, aligned to the MassCore which will ensure all of our students receive an excellent and equitable education so no student falls between the cracks.”

      BPS school and district staff worked diligently to ensure that all students eligible for the modified process were able to benefit and earn their diplomas. Due to the pandemic, some seniors were unable to take the MCAS during the spring of 2020. BPS educators supported students in earning an equivalent competency-based determination, a modified process in which schools certified students received a passing grade in an equivalent course.

      Fifteen BPS high schools experienced increases in their graduation rates, while seven schools saw no meaningful change in their graduation rates. Four of the nine transformation high schools saw increases in the percentage of students graduating. Transformation schools are defined by the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as “in need of broad/comprehensive support” or “in need of focused/targeted support.” While graduation classes in BPS schools vary in size, Lyon High (+16.1), English High (+4.9), TechBoston Academy (+3.5), and Excel High (+1.8), all experienced increases in graduation rates.

      Thirteen BPS high schools experienced decreases in their graduation rates. As part of the district’s high school redesign work, integral to the BPS strategic plan, BPS has worked to expand professional development for educators, specifically to improve outcomes for English Learners and sheltered English immersion classes. In addition, the district has led training on Pre-AP strategies for rigor in multiple content areas for Transformation schools and has opened this opportunity districtwide. BPS is also planning robust summer learning programs to motivate and engage students, provide credit recovery options, and address social and emotional learning.

      Throughout the school year, BPS has bolstered its implementation of Panorama Student Success, a unified student management system that allows staff to analyze individual student data, collaborate and problem-solve remotely, monitor interventions to determine their effectiveness, and assess issues of equity. Utilizing the management software, educators can create individualized student success plans. This affords BPS to be more systematic and coordinated in efforts to improve student outcomes and provides more substantial opportunities for collaboration at the district and school level in pursuit of equitable outcomes for each student.

            “It’s so wonderful to see the achievement of Boston Public Schools students; across student groups, and despite the unpredictable and challenging circumstances our community encountered last year,” said Boston School Committee Chairperson Alexandra Oliver-Dávila. “Equally as impressive are the families who support our students. It has been proven repeatedly that it takes a village to raise and educate our children. These results are a testament to their tenacity and to the unwavering commitment of our educators, school-based and Central staff, parents, and caregivers who work tirelessly to improve educational outcomes for our students.”

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