Federal Way school district reaches 80 percent graduation rate

Federal Way Public Schools district officials announced this week that 80 percent of its students graduated in 2016, the most since 2012.

The district’s graduation rate has grown from 70 percent in 2012 to 77 percent in 2015 to 80 percent this year.

“We have a plan that will drive improvements in the district for the next decade,” Superintendent Dr. Tammy Campbell said at a school board meeting Tuesday. “Our strategic plan points the way for all of our 39 sites to lead efforts for continuous improvement.”

In the strategic plan is a set of goals with the graduation rate as a metric for measuring Goal Five: Persistence to Graduation.

“When looking deeper into the data, we’re also seeing gains in the number of students of color who are graduating,” Campbell said. “I want to thank our K-12 team for your efforts in ensuring our scholars leave our schools ready for the world of college to careers.”

Data reflects more Asian, Hispanic and Native American and Pacific Islander students have graduated compared to last year, with the largest increase coming for Native American students. Last year, 54 percent graduated; this year, 73 percent did.

Campbell said there’s still work to do for the remaining 20 percent of students who haven’t graduated and for third-graders who aren’t reading at their grade level.

“We know this is a key metric to being on track to graduate and thrive beyond high school,” Campbell said of third-grade reading.

The district attributes the graduation increase from last year to various efforts made to achieve “persistence to graduation.” Teachers and staff at district high schools monitor student progress throughout the year using “research-based strategies” to identify early warning signs.

Counselors are at every school in the district and are available to help focus students on college and life after high school. For students that can’t afford college, staff help navigate the federal Free Application for Student Aid and the Washington Application for State Financial Aid programs, as well as the College Bound Scholarship available to low-income students.

Students are also required to develop a high-school-and-beyond plan and a career plan as requirements for graduating.

“It’s not just about graduation, it’s about preparing them for life after high school,” said district spokeswoman Kassie Swenson.

The district has taken other steps to keep kids engaged and interested. In October, it launched the Life After High School Fair. A STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Exploration Night is planned for February 2017 for students interested in learning about careers in those fields.

“One of our focuses has been providing courses that are interesting and relevant to students, such as robotics, engineering, culinary, computer science, AVID, AF JROTC, band and choir,” said Federal Way High School Principal Matt Oberst in a release. “If kids are interested, they are more engaged in learning and persisting to graduation.”

According to the district’s four-year cohort data for the class of 2016, 81.8 percent of students graduated from Decatur High School, 78.1 percent from Federal Way High School, 83.4 percent from Thomas Jefferson High School, 86.4 percent from Todd Beamer High School, 28.2 percent from Career Academy and 100 percent from TAF Academy.

Based on that same cohort data, the district expects the graduation rate to be 89.6 percent for the entire district by 2020. That target reflects a 15 percent annual increase in the graduation percentage.

“I am proud of our dedicated staff who hold our students to high expectations, and provide learning environments for them to persist to graduation and through to college or careers,” Campbell said in the announcement. “The increased rate means that our staff are being successful with more scholars and ensuring they have bright futures.”