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Graduation rates rise, with big gains for those at risk

Groups of students who historically have lower rates of high school completion — such as African-American males, Hispanics, and those from low-income families —recorded some of their biggest gains last year as Massachusetts graduation rates climbed for the eighth consecutive time.

The new rates, which state education officials are releasing in a report Tuesday, reflect the heightened focus on helping at-risk students get through school, education officials said.

The graduation rate for African-American males, for instance, increased by 3.1 percentage points, jumping from 67.7 percent in 2013 to 70.8 percent for 2014.

“This is remarkable progress,” Mitchell Chester, elementary and secondary education commissioner, said in a telephone briefing with reporters Monday. “It’s a tribute to our teachers, counselors, and administrators who are willing to go the extra mile to make sure students who are at risk are engaged and supported.”


Across the state, 86.1 percent of the 73,168 students who entered high school in 2010 graduated four years later in 2014, up from 79.9 percent of those scheduled to graduate in 2006, according to the report, set to be posted on the education agency’s website Tuesday.

Dropout rates also showed a positive trend. Just 2 percent, or 5,746, high school students statewide dropped out last school year, down from 3.8 percent in 2006-07.

The federal government has been assisting Massachusetts in keeping more students in high school by providing the state a $15 million five-year grant in 2010. State education officials used the money to create the MassGrad program, which pairs at-risk students with “graduation coaches,” internships, and other support services.

With the grant money running out, state officials and local school systems are identifying other revenue sources to continue the work.

Urban systems from Boston to Lawrence to Springfield boosted their graduation rates. Holyoke, which is teetering on the brink of a system-wide state takeover, increased its graduation rate from 53.8 percent in 2013 to 60.2 percent last year.


Boston’s rate edged up from 65.9 percent in 2013 to 66.7 percent last year.

“I continue to be extraordinarily proud of the work our high school team has done, as well as our partners in nonprofit organizations and higher education, and others who have supported our effort,” said John McDonough, the interim Boston superintendent.

Boston intensified its efforts to keep students in schools almost a decade ago. It has won statewide recognition for opening a “re-engagement center,” where specialists track down those who have dropped out of school and persuade them to enroll again.

Other efforts include expanding summer schools, providing students opportunities to make up courses online, and more closely monitoring attendance rates and grades.

McDonough also trumpeted the school system’s decline in its high school dropout rate. State data show Boston’s dropout rate slid from 5.9 percent in 2013 to 5.3 percent in 2014.

But McDonough said the school system’s own analysis — using a slightly different methodology than the state — showed an even lower dropout rate, revealing that 3.8 percent of students quit school last year. It is the lowest rate Boston has ever recorded since it began tracking its own data in 1977.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education was originally scheduled to discuss the high school graduation rates at its monthly meeting Tuesday. But predictions of a blizzard prompted state officials to postpone the meeting.


That also means other matters are on hold, such as a recommendation to lift Boston Renaissance Charter School out of probation and a presentation on proposals for new charter schools, including for Brockton and the Fitchburg area.

The meeting will be rescheduled, according to the education department’s website.

James Vaznis can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.