South Florida high school graduation rates improve

January 2016

"The district's graduation rate is moving in the right direction, which is a credit to the hard work of our students, teachers, administrators and parents," Avossa said.

South Florida's high schools are doing a better job of graduating their students, new data shows.

About 76.5 percent of Broward County students graduated last year, up about five percentage points from five years ago, according to figures released Tuesday by the Florida Department of Education.

Palm Beach County was also up five points to 79.4 percent, while in Miami-Dade County, the 78.2 percent rate was a seven percentage point increase in the past five years.

The higher graduation rates could be a boon to the region's economy, which has been relying more on skilled workers. Many jobs require students to have a high school degree, as do community colleges, universities and many workforce training programs. And it's important for recruiting industries, said Kelly Smallridge, president of the Palm Beach County Business Development Board.

"We have long been operating under the notion that economic development is directly tied to the quality of education in our area," Smallridge said. "Whether employers are looking to expand locally or to relocate from outside the state, they usually look at graduation rates as one measure of success for a community."

Robert Avossa, superintendent of Palm Beach County schools, was pleased his district's average was the best of the state's largest school districts.

"The district's graduation rate is moving in the right direction, which is a credit to the hard work of our students, teachers, administrators and parents," Avossa said. "We're still not where we need to be, but we continue to make progress, and that's a testament to their efforts."

One school, Alexander W. Dreyfoos Jr. School of the Arts, had a 100 percent graduation rate, and many others were above 90 percent.

Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said his district is doing a better job of tracking and monitoring student performance, so it can provide extra tutoring or other services before it's too late.

"Every kid that is potentially at risk and struggling, we provide an intervention to meet their social, emotional and academic needs," Runcie said. "We see if they need counselors or other types of resources. There was a very organized effort this past year, and we anticipated our graduation rates would increase."

Miami-Dade County is using similar strategies, including student software that tracks the progress of students. Those who are struggling are placed in programs to help improve their literacy skills, officials said. The county has also extended the day and added an eighth period to about 20 traditionally low performing high schools, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said. That has allowed students to make up needed credits and receive extra help, he said.

"Student achievement in Miami-Dade County Public Schools is soaring,'' Carvalho said. "Our efforts to ensure that students graduate and are prepared for college and careers mean that lifelong personal and professional successes are well within their reach."

Schools have been putting an increased emphasis on graduation in recent years, after the state made it part of the criteria used to determine their letter grades. Statewide, the graduation rate was almost 78 percent, about a seven percentage point increase in the past five years and a whopping 18 percentage point climb since 2004, state officials say.

"This news is further evidence that Florida's public education system is serving our students well," Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said. "More students are achieving success by earning a diploma, which will enable them to pursue higher education and meaningful careers."

The graduation rate measures the percentage of students who graduate within four years of their first enrollment in ninth grade. While 77.8 percent of students in Florida graduated last year, only 4.1 percent actually dropped out, state officials say.

The rest are still in school, completed their classes but didn't pass the required state assessment, pursued a General Education Development diploma or received a special diploma given to some students with disabilities.

Complete results are available at the state Department of Education website. or 561-243-6637 or 954-425-1421

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