UPPER MARLBORO — For the fourth consecutive year, Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) is celebrating increased graduation rates. On Tuesday, the Maryland State Department of Education released its annual Maryland Report Card detailing graduation and drop out rates for the 2015-2016 school year, and PGCPS has a lot to celebrate, said its Chief Executive Officer […]
UPPER MARLBORO — For the fourth consecutive year, Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) is celebrating increased graduation rates.
On Tuesday, the Maryland State Department of Education released its annual Maryland Report Card detailing graduation and drop out rates for the 2015-2016 school year, and PGCPS has a lot to celebrate, said its Chief Executive Officer Kevin Maxwell.
“I’m very, very proud of the work that we’re doing,” he said. “We came in 2013 after the 2013 scores were at 74.1 and we said, ‘we should be able to do better than this.’”
For 2016, the county school system reached an all-time high in graduation rates in the new scaling system that was introduced in 2010. The state of Maryland also set a new record.
Prince George’s seniors are now graduating at a rate of 81.44 percent – a 2.69 percentage point increase over the 2014-2015 school year, which saw a 78.75 percent rate. The statewide average now sits at 87.61 percent, up more than half a percentage point from last year.
Montgomery County took home a 0.47 percent increase, while Anne Arundel had 1 percent. In Virginia, Fairfax County saw a 0.2 percentage point loss as Arlington County saw a 1.8 percentage point decrease, though both Virginia systems remain in the 90 percents for graduation, according to Virginia Department of Education data.
Moreover, since 2010, the state has seen a six-point increase in graduation rates, while Prince George’s County saw a 5.26 increase.
“The new data is great news for Maryland, as the high school diploma is the important first step of a successful journey,” said State Superintendent Karen Salmon. “We continue to strengthen our standards and our classrooms to better prepare each student for employment or additional education.”
Maxwell also attributed PGCPS’ success to a number of administrative changes on how schools address struggling students.
“We did a number of things and we’ve just been consistently working on getting better. We developed the early warning system and we went to the public education leadership program at Harvard to refine that work,” Maxwell said.
The early warning system helps PGCPS target struggling students and their needs, Maxwell said. That also helps the individual schools get the support needed to reach their goals.
The school system also initiated a credit recovery system to allow students who have fallen behind recover credit for their missed work.
Segun Eubanks, chair of the county’s board of education, said those changes have resulted in evident progress as PGCPS saw “promising” increases across the board – at their specialty, vocational and neighborhood schools alike.
Some of the biggest increases were at Surrattsville High School, which saw an increase of 10.61 percent, Tall Oaks Vocational, which saw an increase of 17.56 percent, and Gwynn Park and Suitland high schools, which both increased by around seven percentage points.
Graduation rates for Caucasian students increased by 1.4 points, to 80.3 percent. African American students’ rates rose 4.16 points, to 85.4, while Asian students rose 2.45 to 91.7 percent and American Indian or Alaskan Native students rose 13.26 points to nearly 72 percent, after a significant drop for that cohort in 2015.
Hispanic/Latino graduation rates, however, dropped by 0.64 percentage points.
Special education students saw a 6.36-point increase in their rates over 2015, bringing their rate to approximately 67.4 percent. Students on free and reduced meals also saw increases, as their graduation rate rose by two points to 77.49 percent.
“We talk about every student, in every school, everyday,” Eubanks said. “This is a focus on saying, ‘this is about the system, this is about all kids.’ All means all, so that’s the kind of mentality we’re trying to have.”
County Executive Rushern Baker, III said he is ecstatic over the increase and pointed to Maxwell’s leadership as a turning point for the school system.
“These are the things that I asked Dr. Maxwell to do when we hired him, and that is to come here and turn around our graduation rate,” he said. “And the reason it’s so important is that we know if our young people come out of high school with at least a high school diploma, that puts them on a path where they can get a job, where they can go on to community college for a four-year degree. But their chances are so much better.”
Other notable increases were at Potomac, with a 5.2 percentage point increase after a 13-point increase in 2015 over 2014’s 57.8 percent graduation rate. Bowie rose roughly 4.7 percentage points at the same time Friendly rose 4.5 points, Charles H. Flowers rose 4.8, and High Point rose 3.3. Rates at the now-closed Forestville rose by nearly four points.
“They show our residents of the county how well the public school system is doing preparing our children to graduate, and I think it gives greater confident of our folks to put their children into our public school system,” Baker said.
This year also showed an increase in schools that now rest in the 90percent zone for high school graduations. Bowie High broke into the 90 range, as did Charles H. Flowers, Gwynn Park and Surrattsville. DuVal increased from 91.6 to 92.3 while Eleanor Roosevelt moved from 90.45 to 91.47 and Frederick Douglass increased from 90.3 to almost 92 percent.
Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr. is just outside 90 with an 89.17 percent graduation rate.
“Those percentages, they actually represent kids who are graduating that might not have been graduating a few years ago and that’s a credit to the work we’re been doing and it gives them opportunities they wouldn’t be having,” Maxwell.
Eubanks said, though he is proud of the accomplishments the school system has made in gradation rates, he also noted the school system is not just graduating students for the sake of moving them along. PGCPS is also proud of the quality of its graduates and their accomplishments, he said.
“We’re graduating with higher standards,” Eubanks said. “We’re keeping up with preparedness for people for jobs and a career. So if we’re graduating at higher percentages and they’re ready, that’s the way we want to go.”
Despite gains, both Maxwell and Eubanks said the school system still has “a lot of work to do.”
The Hispanic graduation rate decreased while students with limited English proficiency (LEP) also decreased by 4 percentage points from 53.61 percent in 2015 to 49.6 in 2016. That also reflects a consistent decrease since 2013 when the LEP graduation rate stood at 63 percent.
A few schools within PGCPS also saw some significant decreases in their graduation rates. Croom Vocational saw a more than seven-point dip. Northwestern Evening School saw a five-point decrease and the Community-Based Classrooms experienced a nearly 13-percentage-point fall.
In addition Fairmont Heights, Parkdale, Central and Baldensburg all saw 1 and 2 percent decreases.
And while an increasing number of PGCPS high schools are reaching 90 percent and above rates, schools like High Point and Northwestern are still in the 60 percent range.
Maxwell said his goal is still to catch up to the state average, though he admitted brining up PGCPS’ rates would increase the overall state percentage as well.
“We’re really proud of where we are, but we know we still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We’re one of the larger districts in the state, so when we get better, the whole state gets better. That’s true, but we can still close that gap and we’re going to continue to pursue that.”