Deputy Superintendent Patrick Tutwiler recently presented data to the School Committee that paints a mixed portrait of the district’s academic performance. The main barometers of student graduation all stayed somewhat steady but none improved in a substantial way.
“You can see our 4-year graduation rate declined with the class of 2017. It is a small decline of 1.6%. It is is a small decline but we are disappointed and concerned because while it is small it is headed in the wrong direction. Our 5 year graduation rate however continues to improve. We are up 1.5% from the previous year, again not a large number but it is headed in the right direction.”
The improved 5 year graduation rate could be interpreted as a sign that troubled students are graduating at a better rate, as the students who take an additional year to graduate are often those who face the biggest obstacles to graduating at all. The slight improvement in the 5-year rate and the slight decline in the 4-year rate could mean that the school system is helping students graduate at a sustainable if less-than-ideal pace.
“When you look at our dropout rate for the 16-17 school year it is a 2-tenths of a point increase from the previous year. I personally was surprised it wasn’t larger. If you look at our 4 and 5 year graduation data, it is below the statewide averages for each. Unfortunately there is a significant gap in our 4-year graduation rate compared to the state, about 15 points. Less so with our 5-year graduation rate, that is a 9 point difference. We continue to be on par with what we consider ‘peer districts.’”
Tutwiler cited cities such as Brockton and Lawrence that face similar socio-economic challenges in educating their students as comparable school districts which Lynn has kept pace with academically.
“One particular subgroup stands out, our English-language learner subgroup, and that is our most at-risk subgroup for dropping out. The dropout rate for that group was 12.8% for the 16-17 year and you’ll see… its been trending in the wrong direction for a few years.”
The challenges the school system faces surrounding English-learners are not unique to Lynn, as other districts with large numbers of English-learners around the state are also struggling to find ways to serve them effectively. Many of the English-learners who end up dropping out are those who enroll in Lynn schools at older ages, which puts them at a disadvantage compared to those who have been in the system their entire academic careers and who have been able to take advantage of the resources available.
On how the district could better serve English-learner students with non traditional backgrounds, Tutwiler had this to say “It’s inappropriate to take an 18-year-old student with a sixth grade education and drop them in a traditional day program.”
Going forward, Lynn Public Schools will face tremendous challenges in figuring out how to address the dropout rate among English-learners who enrolling late in their academic careers.