BOSTON — Last school year’s high school dropout rate was the lowest that Massachusetts has seen in more than three decades, officials announced Tuesday.
Statewide, around 500 fewer students dropped out in the 2013-2014 school year than the year before, bringing the dropout rate to 2 percent. However achievement gaps still persist between students along race and class lines.
Education officials associated the overall progress with a statewide expansion of the Early Warning Indicator System (EWIS), a method to provide information to districts on the likelihood that their students will reach key academic goals. They also chalked up the success to using federal funds to establish a dropout prevention and recovery program.
Mitchell Chester, the state commissioner of elementary and secondary education, credited local districts, as well.
“This is remarkable progress and it’s attributed to the work that our teachers, our counselors and our administrators are doing to go the extra mile to make sure that students who are at risk are engaged and supported,” said Chester. “We live in a world today where a high school diploma is a minimum credential; if you don’t have that high school diploma you are robbed of a better future.”
Minority and low-income students are graduating at higher rates than in recent years, but more can be done to retain these students. Black, Hispanic, mixed-race and Native-American students have double the dropout rate of white students.
High-needs students — students from low-income families, with disabilities, learning English or recent immigrants — disproportionately left high school as well. High-needs students make up roughly 45 percent of Massachusetts students, yet made up almost 80 percent of the student dropouts in 2013-2014.
Despite a steady decrease in the number of overall student dropouts in urban districts — Boston saw a decrease from 5.9 percent in the 2012-2013 school year to 5.3 percent in 2013-2014 — the number of students quitting school in the state’s cities doubles the statewide average.
In 2013-2014, one-third of all urban districts actually saw an increase in the number of students dropping out from the previous year.
David DeRuosi, superintendent of Malden Public Schools, an urban district that reduced its dropout rate, credits two factors to the district’s improvements: adult advocates and multiple pathways to a diploma.
“It’s surrounding students with positive adult role models,” said DeRuosi of the adult advocacy. The district offers internship opportunities and matches groups of high school students with adult mentors.
The district also offers opportunities for flexible scheduling and online courses.
“Kids need multiple approaches to gaining that diploma,” said DeRuosi. “Whether it’s online or in the classroom.”