Dropout data: 70.2 percent graduate on time in FW

A group of Federal Way High School graduates in 2008. - File photo
A group of Federal Way High School graduates in 2008.
— image credit: File photo

Assistant Superintendent Sally McLean reviewed Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) graduation rate and dropout data during the school board’s Jan. 8 meeting.

This year was the first year, McLean said, that a deeper look into these numbers was available, due to data collection methods implemented at the state level a number of years ago.

The district can see its on-time graduation and extended graduation rates.

The data looked at students who were enrolled as ninth-graders in the 2008-09 school year, and who graduated in 2012. For those students, 70.2 percent graduated on time, while 17 percent would be considered extended graduation, meaning they needed an extra semester or two in order to complete their graduation requirements. For the class of 2012, 13 percent of students were considered “negative withdrawals” or dropouts.

McLean explained that there are a number of factors affecting that negative withdrawals statistic.

“Often times, these are students who have made other choices we don’t necessarily know about,” she said. “We have a group of students…we don’t know what happened to them, (we have a withdrawal code) called ‘unknown reasons’.”

McLean said those numbers can be affected by students who transfer to another school that doesn’t require a transfer of records, which means they aren’t recorded by FWPS or the state as having continued their education.

Other times, a student will indicate they plan to continue their education elsewhere, but don’t continue on, for whatever reason.

“I’m not trying to make light of the fact that 254 students did not graduate on time and are not continuing with us, but there are some interesting facts in the underlying data to also take a look at,” she noted.

One of the negative withdrawal codes is “expulsion/suspension,” and is something FWPS board member Claire Wilson would like to know more about in the future, she said. For now, there is no distinction whether the student in that category was banned from the school district or simply dropped out.

Graduation rates

Another fact that FWPS is facing with its graduation rates is its partnership in the consortium known as The Road Map Project. As part of that consortium, FWPS has agreed to try and increase the graduation rate to 92 percent by the year 2020. As it sits now, that would amount to an approximate 2.5 to 3 percent increase in graduation rates per year until 2020. This fact sparked some of the most interesting conversation of the Jan. 8 meeting, as board president Tony Moore pondered whether that’s a realistic goal.

“What I’m about to say may be some educational blasphemy, but I don’t understand how you can guarantee anybody to graduate on time or to do anything,” he said. “I don’t know how you guarantee that… every child is going to learn at the same speed and get through the system at 100 percent or 90 percent. ... I’m not saying this to lower the bar…But how do we have this expectation that every child is going to get through the system with what they need in 12 years?”

Board member Ed Barney said unrealistic expectations have been a part of the educational field since the adoption of the federal No Child Left Behind law in the early 2000s.

“You’ll find that when No Child Left Behind came into being, they said 100 percent of all students will be at a fourth grade or fifth grade level. And that was flawed from the beginning. An automatic failure point that the federal government created, knowing that the system would fail,” he said.

Board vice-president Angela Griffin said she thinks it’s an issue of probability versus possibility.

“We have to look at each student as an independent learner, and provide resources to make graduation possible for every youth,” she said.


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