The state's high school graduation rate is the highest it’s ever been, according to new data released by the Louisiana Department of Education. The class of 2017 - seniors who graduated last year - had a 78.1 percent graduation rate, up from 77 percent for the class of 2016. But schools in the New Orleans area still lag behind.
Most notably, Jefferson Parish schools’ graduation rate saw a significant drop, falling almost 4 percentage points in 2017 to around 72 percent, and losing all the gains made in the last three years.
Orleans Parish Schools’ graduation rate rose slightly last year, but it’s still about the same as it was three years ago, around 72 percent.
Officials at the Recovery School District (RSD), which oversaw the majority of schools in Orleans Parish last year, point to long-term improvements made since Katrina, when the graduation rate may have been as low as 54 percent.
"The progress that New Orleans students have made since 2005 is remarkable, and educators and leaders should be proud of the work they have done," RSD Chief Executive Officer Kunjan Narechania said in an emailed statement.
Narechania also pointed to gains made by particular student groups that outpaced their counterparts in the rest of the state. New Orleans black students for example earned career and early college credentials at higher rates than black students statewide. Around 38 percent of African American students in the class of 2017 in New Orleans earned a credential, compared to 35 percent of African American students in the same cohort statewide.
Next school year all schools in the RSD will go back to the Orleans Parish School Board. Narechania says that means the work of increasing the graduation rate will be left to the OPSB. "As we move forward, and as we transition oversight of the city's public schools to the local school system, we will look to the leadership of the Orleans Parish School Board to ensure students here continue to graduate on time, at higher rates and with the skills needed for postsecondary success," Narechania wrote.
Orleans Parish Superintendent Henderson Lewis said in an emailed statement that the district must remain focused on pushing up graduation rates.
"The OPSB is ready to step up to this challenge as we transition our schools back to local control. Our plans to raise the high school graduation rate and improve graduates’ readiness for future success were outlined in our Unified Path Forward –Vision and Goals, which were released last November."
That plan to raise the graduation rate is pretty broad so far. It includes the creation of more high quality schools and sharing of best practices.
The latest increase in the state's overall graduation rate is part of a steady upward trend made since 2008, when the graduation rate was around 67 percent. Even at this new high of 78 percent, Louisiana’s graduation rate is still behind the national average of 84 percent (for 2016).
State Superintendent John White says the department of education is going to focus on schools with the lowest graduation rates. He says some schools are already participating in a state redesign grant, meant to help struggling schools revamp their instruction.