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High school dropout rate at all-time low in Massachusetts

Massachusetts reached the lowest high school dropout rate in decades and the highest four-year graduation rate ever, according to statistics released Monday by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 

JC Considine, spokesman for DESE, said this success could be attributed to the educators and officials within districts who work personally with the students and have launched programs to connect even more.

“The credit really belongs to the districts because they’re using their own strategies to identify and bring back students,” he said. “They’re starting a lot of opportunities and programs to keep students engaged and keep them on a pathway to graduation. It’s really about providing a more personalized approach to a lot of these at-risk students with positive behavioral support.”

Considine said the state was at its high water mark when the dropout rate peaked at 3.8 percent in 2006. Massachusetts’s statewide dropout rate then dove to 2.2 percent from 2012 to 2013.  Additionally, the four-year graduation rate reached an all-time high of 85 percent during the same time.

DESE began collecting this data in 2006, Considine said.

“We’re beginning to identify the strategies that are successful,” he said. “Many of those include providing alternate pathways for these students, and providing credit recovery and credit acceleration because some of them are older students or [those who] have been disengaged for awhile. It’s important to give them the confidence that they can pursue the end goal which is not only graduation, but preparation for the next step and success at the next step.”

Additionally, the Boston Public Schools dropout rate fell from 6.4 percent to 4.5 percent from 2012 to 2013. Unlike DESE, BPS began recording these figures in 1977, and since then, this is the lowest dropout rate BPS has seen.

“Graduating from high school is fundamental to closing the achievement gap and starting to bridge the economic divide,” said Boston Mayor Martin Walsh in a Monday release. “While I applaud BPS’s progress, we cannot rest until all students, across all neighborhoods, are graduating BPS prepared for college and career success.”

Ruth Shane, director of Boston Public Schools Collaboration at Boston University, said this decrease in dropout rate and increase in graduation rate is due to creating a more nurturing environment in the schools. Shane said faculty members are paying more attention to the non-academic needs of the students than in past years.

“A lot of [this] has to do with creating systems that help students feel connected to smaller entities within a high school, connecting with advisors or with a particular group, and having guidance counselors pay more attention to them,” she said. “The idea is to try to help students who run into a problem to stay in school or return to school.”

Shane said having educators focus on more than just the assigned curriculum is vital.

“The newest initiatives in Boston have a lot to do with strengthening the school leadership and providing a very thoughtful performance evaluation of teachers,” she said. “If teachers are teaching more thoughtfully, they’re paying more attention to what the students are learning. Students have to be helped to set goals, and feel that people are concerned about their needs and their progress, concerning the social and emotional things that surround the adolescent experience.”

A number of residents said in this economy and this job market, a high school diploma, in the very least, is indispensable.

“Education is needed to get anywhere in life,” said Omar Zeid, 29, of Brighton. “Without a high school diploma, it makes it nearly impossible to compete in the job market. But if we can increase the graduation rate, we would be able to also decrease the unemployment rate.”

Magda Spasiano, 39, of Boston, who counsels students within the LGBT community, said the educational environment needs to also be taken into consideration.

“Many of the students I work with are bullied or feel like outcasts, so wanting to avoid that atmosphere may lead to dropping out,” she said. “Lack of motivation is also a problem, and the hassle of commuting, it can all make high school difficult to finish, but luckily there are a lot of alternatives.”

Kevin Wiles, 28, of Allston, said high school diplomas are required to get jobs at this point, but also understood why pursuing education may seem hopeless to some.

“These days, a college diploma is practically the new minimum for jobs, so not graduating high school can incredibly hurt a person’s future success,” he said. “But at the same time, with college prices being so high, making it hard to go to college, graduating high school may seem kind of pointless to some kids.”


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