Palm Beach County graduation rate hits new high

Updated Jan 11, 2018
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Palm Beach County’s high school graduation rate jumped nearly 3 percentage points in 2017, a leap so large that it was remarkable the first time it happened in 2016 and one that now brings the county’s graduation rate to an all-time high of 85 percent, according to newly released state figures.

The increase mirrors a rise to new heights at the state level, with Florida reporting an overall graduation rate of 82.3 percent. It is also the fourth consecutive year that the county outperformed both the state and the other large urban districts.

But district leaders said Wednesday that they were most pleased to see the disparity between white students and their black and Hispanic peers reduced as the latter two groups made significant gains.

Palm Beach County’s black student graduation rate, just above 79 percent, represented an increase of more than 5 percentage points and exceeded rates posted in the other large urban districts. The county’s Hispanic graduation rate rose by more than 3 percentage points to 83 percent. Among the big seven districts, only Orange County’s Hispanic graduation rate was higher. The graduation rate for the county’s white students is 91 percent.

Of the district’s traditional high schools, a majority saw an increase in graduation rates. Only two saw dips: Seminole Ridge and Alexander Dreyfoos School of the Arts, where the rate fell from 100 percent to 99 percent. (Palm Beach Virtual school, a non-traditional school also saw a drop from 100 percent to 93 percent. )

The biggest gains were seen at Pahokee, Glades Central and Lake Worth High.

“I’m incredibly impressed,” said Superintendent Robert Avossa, who zeroed in on the gains by minority students. “We’ve really had a concerted effort to help students get across the line.”

One strategy he called out specifically was the use of the ACT college entrance exam scores as an alternative to passing the state’s English and language arts exam. “That effort has really paid off,” Avossa said. “We’re also monitoring very closely and making it harder and harder for kids to drop out.”

Since 2016, the school board and Avossa have been aiming for a 90 percent graduation rate districtwide by 2021. Nineteen district-operated schools hit that mark on their own in 2017. If the graduation rates for charter schools are removed from the equation, district-operated schools hit that mark as a group for the first time this year.

Charter schools, which account for about 10 percent of the district’s enrollment, often target at-risk teens and historically report lower graduation rates in the county. But this year, they posted a 10-percentage-point gain to claim a 50 percent graduation rate.

The federal government dictates the formula for calculating graduation rates, which includes standard diplomas but not GEDs or special diplomas. Florida will use these rates when calculating school grades in 2018.

Graduation rates across the state have been on the rise for more than a decade.

Andrew Marra contributed to this story.