Jun 23, 2017

High School Graduation Rate Maintains Prior Record Increase, Credentials and Financial Aid Awards Rise

BATON ROUGE, La. - The number of students graduating annually from Louisiana high schools has remained steady and more students than ever before are earning college credit and credentials valid in high-wage industries, according to results released today by the state Department of Education. The results also highlighted recent gains made by Louisiana graduates in earning eligibility for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS, and in completing forms to register for federal financial aid.

The long-term gains come amidst a five-year push by Louisiana schools to increase not only the number of annual college graduates but also the number of graduates earning employer-validated "Jump Start" credentials and early college credits through programs such as dual enrollment, Advanced Placement (AP), College Level Examination Program (CLEP), and International Baccalaureate (IB).

The results also highlighted challenges, however, that persist in the education levels of many Louisiana students and graduates. In spite of profound gains in recent years, African-American students and students with disabilities continue to graduate and earn credentials at lower rates than the general population. In addition, the results showed the struggles of some high schools serving large numbers of low-income students to achieve strong graduation outcomes, identifying such schools as "in need of comprehensive support" under the state's new plan to carry out the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.

"The Class of 2016 maintained the graduation gains of preceding classes and exceeded them in the education levels they achieved. More students than ever before are graduating already having earned college credit and high-value workplace credentials," said State Superintendent John White. "Our policies are working. But there is much more left to be done. Even today, too many students do not graduate on time, and too many graduates are not clearly qualified for the next phase of education. These challenges often play out along lines of race, class, language, and disability. As we enter the era of ESSA, we must be mindful of these continuing challenges, and we must address them head-on."

The results released today include the following highlights:

  • Nearly 39,000 students-about 77 percent of the graduation cohort-graduated with a diploma on time in 2016.Graduation has steadily risen over the past five years, with this year's class maintaining record gains made by the class of 2015. More than 3,500 more students graduated in 2016 than did in 2012. In its ESSA plan, Louisiana set a goal of raising its high school graduation rate to 90 percent by 2025.
  • The Class of 2016 included graduation rates of 71.4 percent for African American students; 71.2 percent for economically-disadvantaged students; and 45.1 percent for students with disabilities.All of these results reflect long-term gains and maintain increases from 2015. They also reflect continued gaps between these groups of students and the general population.
  • Forty-three percent of the Class of 2016 earned early college credit or a statewide industry-based credential, valued in high-wage industries, a 6 percent increase since 2013.The percentage of students earning particularly advanced credentials-such as passing an AP or CLEP test, or earning an National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) level-two credential in a craft trade-increased to 10 percent, up from 4 percent in 2013.
  • A staggering 7,000 more students completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)in 2016 than in 2013, affording them greater access to post-secondary education and training. That number has continued to rise in 2017.
  • Nearly 2,500 more graduates in the Class of 2016 were eligible for TOPS than in the class of 2012, also sustaining record gains made by the Class of 2015.

Among the priorities moving forward, Louisiana must focus on graduating more students and equipping them with industry-based credentials and college credit; expanding access to opportunities for all students and schools; and continue supporting financial aid access by requiring FAFSA completion for graduation.

Louisiana's ESSA plan, now under review by the U.S. Department of Education, addresses both statewide ambitions to increase education levels and the targeted challenges of the most struggling schools and communities. The plan:

  • redefines A-level performance as including a 90 percent graduation rate and a 21 ACT;
  • identifies schools that are persistently rated "D" or "F" and those with graduation rates below 67 percent as in need of comprehensive support, requiring state-approved improvement plans and making them eligible for grants to partner with nationally-recognized school improvement partner organizations;
  • identifies schools demonstrating persistent "F" level achievement with historically disadvantaged groups as requiring urgent intervention, requiring state-approved improvement plans and making them eligible for grants to implement research-based practices;
  • uses other federal funds, including Title I Direct Student Services and Title IV, to expand courses not otherwise available in high schools, with a focus on early college coursework and career and technical education.

The federal law will take effect July 1, 2017, and policy changes, which will be considered by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) in August, will be implemented in 2017-2018.


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