Graduation rate is down in the Detroit district but up statewide

The graduation rate in the Detroit school district declined last year, according to new data, landing at 75.84% for the class of 2019. 

That’s down from 77.27% the previous year. Statewide, 81.41% of the students in the class of 2019 graduated on time, up from 80.64% the previous year. The graduation rate percentages reflect the number of students who began as freshmen in the fall of 2015 and graduated during the 2018-19 school year, and take into account students who transferred in or out during that time. 

(Scroll down to search the graduation rates for schools and districts in Michigan)

It’s unclear why the rate went down in the Detroit district, though some of it could be related to the impact of the district taking back control of a handful of high schools in 2017 that had previously been in the Education Achievement Authority, a state reform district for some of the worst performing schools in the city. Those high schools had been in the EAA for five years.

Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said in a statement that there may have been issues with the way the state identified some students — particularly those who had previously been with the reform district — when calculating the rates.

Regardless of those issues, Vitti said, “more work needs to be done.”

“All district indicators are moving in the right direction but graduation rate,” Vitti said, referring to improvement the district has seen in academic achievement and in areas such as chronic absenteeism. “Our elementary and K-8 schools reflect the best of our rebuilding efforts. Our high schools have been slow to implement the reform at scale. High school reform will certainly be a greater focus in the years to come.”

The data were released late Wednesday afternoon by the Michigan Department of Education and the Michigan Center for Educational Performance and Information.

Among the steps Vitti said the district has taken to improve high schools: Teachers are using a new literacy and math curriculum, career academies were expanded and there is a greater focus on data related to attendance, absenteeism, staffing, discipline, SAT performance, college and career participation, and graduation rates.

Meanwhile, Vitti said the district will begin issuing its own letter grades to schools. And an assistant superintendent has been assigned to oversee all high schools “to streamline support and accountability.”

Vitti said reform at the schools that previously had been part of the EAA has been more difficult, “because of how unstructured learning was taking place through online learning and a lack of direct instruction.

“High school reform started, at scale, this year. We must improve, though, and will improve our high schools in the years to come,” Vitti said.

The statewide dropout rate for the class of 2019 was 8.36%, down from 8.73%. The graduation rate and the dropout rate add up to less than 100%. That’s because a portion of students didn’t graduate on time but remained in school, or earned a high-school equivalency degree.

The improvement in the Michigan graduation rate is encouraging news in a state where top officials are trying to get more students through high school and into some kind of postsecondary education. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s goal is for 60% of state residents to have a university or college degree or completion of a training program by 2030. Right now, the percentage is around 43%.

“This is great news for our students and families, because every kid in Michigan deserves a great education that gets them on track to graduate and pursue a postsecondary education,” Whitmer said in a statement.

State Superintendent Michael Rice noted in a statement that the graduation rate for 2019 is an all-time high since 2008, the year states were required to adopt a uniform formula for calculating the rates. But he said more work needs to be done.

“While we continue to have significant room for improvement, particularly for students of color, economically disadvantaged students, and special needs students, we are making yearly progress in increasing graduation rates and decreasing dropout rates.”

Staff writer Koby Levin contributed to this report.