Saturday, February 03, 2007

Durfee's 55.5 and the Silver Lining

Great news Fall River, for every 100 students that go to Durfee only 55 of them will graduate 4 years later!

I listened to some of the reaction on the local talk shows and wasn't surprised to hear people screaming about the School Department, the School Committee, the Mayor, the state, the teachers and (shock!) the parents.

I'm not trying to make light of this, it's depressing, disgusting, disgraceful and that's just the D words!

But let's look at this a little more in depth and get a better idea of what's going on, shall we?

The Department of Education report covered students who became freshman in 2002 and tracked them through 2006. In Fall River there were 824 students and 4 years later 55.5% graduated. The report states that 6.4% were still in school, 2.4 were 'non-grad' completers, .4% were 'permanently excluded' and 36.5% dropped out.

So, let's do a little math (and a little rounding) and convert those percentages to students:
824 Freshmen Students
446 Graduates
300 Drop Outs
3 Permanently Excluded
19 Non-Grad Completers.
52 Still in School

A little quick math will show that in my rounding of the percentages I've lost 4 students, but for my less than definitive study, I think we're okay.

So what this means is that 517 students stayed in school for 4 years of those students, 86% (446) graduated in 2006, and another 52 students are still working toward graduation. Another 19 students are 'Non-Grad Completers', which I will assume means they failed the MCAS test.

What this indicates to me is that students that stay in school graduate at a very high percentage. 86% graduated in 4 years and with 52 students still working toward graduation. The percentage of 2002 freshman, that remain in school and graduate, could go as high as 96%.

Okay, so we're not out of the woods, but at least we know that we're doing a really good job with students that stay in school.

So the question is how do we get more of the 303 students who dropped out or were excluded to remain in school?

A good start would be to increase the age when a student can drop-out with parental consent from16 to 18, but at the same time we need to realize that keeping kids in school by itself is not the answer.

We need to determine how many of these kids drop out for academic reasons and how many for other reason such as issues at home. We need to spot trends at a much earlier age and try to provide a support structure long before these kids get to high school. We also need to take a long hard look at what support structure we have in place and see if it really works. We need to really push to implement ideas like the two Horace Mann Charter Schools that were proposed, one for gifted/talented and the other for more challenged students.

Study after study, after study stresses the benefit of and the need for parental involvement. More has got to be done to get parents involved in their children's education. Perhaps the school district should employee an off site counselor that could go to homes of children where parents are unable (or unwilling) to attend school meetings, conferences etc. Perhaps more resources, in the way of tutorial guides and learning aids, need be made available to assist parents in helping their children. More effort needs to be made create a more active and more beneficial role for parent volunteers and parent groups. Parental involvement has the potential not just to benefit a parent's own child but to be a benefit to an entire class or to entire school.

We need to recognize that solving these problems requires both long term plans and short term actions. A failure to do both is basically ensuring the success of some at the failure of others. It is, after all, not too hard to figure out that a good bulk of these 824 students came from 2 of our middle schools during years when they were being recognized as under performing and in turn realize that students who struggled in 6,7, and 8th grades are probably going to continue to struggle in high school. We also need to realize that prioritizing education means funding education and if it seems that we spend more per student than suburban communities it is because we face more issues. Lastly we need to recognize in order to have any real success in reforming our school system that it is going to require that everyone work toward the same set of goals.


Anonymous said...

I don't see the point of the argument that 96% of students who stay in school end up graduating. Students who are in high school generally graduate or drop out. If you remove all the dropouts from the equation, then what else is there to do for the remaining students other than graduate?
If students don't drop out, then they will graduate.

Other than the dropout rate, we must also look at the quality of education that the students who do graduate actually achieve. I'm familiar with tutors from BCC that stated that some Durfee graduates could not identify nouns or adjectives and had trouble formulating a paragraph.

Some have raised the concern that the MCAS may have driven some students to dropout. There needs to be a way to measure that all students receiving a high school diploma have mastered a certain level of academic achievement. We shouldn't just give diplomas for students who just put in their time at school. If MCAS is scaring students away, then we need more resources for those students so they can pass the MCAS rather than dropout.

jwilcox440 said...

The real problem is not at the high schotudeol. Many of those wo drop out of high school enter high school with their minds made up to drop out. If you look at the numbers, you will find that most students leave during the first three semesters of high school. The solution is to change student attitudes and expectations in grades 4 to 10.

Lefty said...


You can stay in school and not pass MCAS and therefore not graduate. 86% of the students who stayed in school graduated and met the requirement of passing MCAS.

The point I was making is that kids who stay in school by and large graduate, (passing MCAS), in 4 years and that the big issue was trying to find ways to to take the 36.5% who dropout and make them successful students.

Anonymous said...

Based on what I have heard about the MCAS from Dr. Fischer, the MCAS is an 8th grade test. The fact that 86% of 12 graders can pass an 8th grade test is not something to be celebrate.

Also, the MCAS can be taken multiple times and there is also a waiver for students who have good grades but scored poorly.

I mean, we would really be in trouble if 1/3 dropped out and an additional 1/3 failed the MCAS. I think you are trying to find a silver lining where one does not exist.

According to recent MCAS data, Durfee scored as follows:
English: 7% Advanced, 41% Proficient, 32% Needs Improvement, and 19% Failing.

Math: 15% Advanced, 18% Proficient, 30% Needs Improvement, 36% Failing.

jwilcox440 said...

Academic matters are not the only reason that students leave. There is a real issue of poverty. At the present time, there are 2700 students at Durfee High School. The income levels of their families are such that 1500 students qualify for free or reduced price lunches. The qualify standard for this program is at or near the poverty level. There are students who leave simply because there is a need to help support their families. No one should be happy about the graduation rate, but is reflective of other issues within our city.

Lefty said...


In order to graduate from high school not only must a student meet the school's graduation requirements but also must pass the MCAS issued in 10th grade or a subsequent retest.

From the reading I've done there is no waiver or exceptions.

MCAS as a test is issued in multiple grades. I believe it starts in 3rd grade but it is the 10th grade test that is used as a graduation requirement.

Now the MCAS results that you posted are horrible. These are the 2006 scores for 10th grade. In other words these results are for the class of 2008.

The thing is how many of these students will pass MCAS on a retest? How many will continue to fail but stay in school and how many will just drop out?

It's interesting to note that the 2004 test results, (the students who would go on to be the class of 2006), indicate only 631 students took the MCAS test when the DOE report states there were 824 students that made up the freshman class in 2003. Did we really have almost 200 students drop out before or during their sophomore year?

You right though, I am looking for a silver lining, as someone who has children in school I need know that my child can receive a quality education.

And, I think there is a silver lining. If you have child in Fall River schools and your child stays in school and you are an active and involved parent there is a excellent chance you child will do well in school and graduate.

What we need to do is figure out how to make more of our children successful students and it has to happen well before high school.

Relevant links:

About MCAS

Durfee 2004 MCAS Results

DOE Report

Lefty said...


I want to apologize, I saw yesterday but blogger was experiencing some issues and I couldn't post a comment.

I agree with you, if we are going to have any impact it has to be done at earlier grades. Personally I think right from Kindergarten. Children need to supported and the importance of their education needs to emphasized. It's not enough for just teachers to do it.

I also agree that the issues that make a student drop out are not solely academic and even if they appear to be academic there are underlying reasons why children struggle in school. There are no easy solutions but parents, guardians, mentors, school PTOs etc. must step in to support children and help them succeed.

Whatever conditions a child faces apart from school we need to help them get by. Their education is too important to them and to the health of our community.

Lefty said...

By the way,

I do want to thank both of you for commenting and sharing your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Anon (again),

I agree with almost everything that has been said. I understand that there are a multitude of issues that face our children. Poverty certainly causes the financial need for students to drop out of school in order to help support the family. Also, parents who have to work multiple jobs also can't be as involved in school and homework, etc.

I would also like to point out that studies I have read demonstrate that most students who do dropout do so in the 1st 3 semesters of high school. Although, 200 students less does seem a bit fishy to me.

Finally, although the exam itself cannot be modified, students may receive accomodations such as taking the exam in a smaller group or be given additional time. Parents and students must know how to request these accomodations for students on IEPs. Also, students who fail the MCAS may still graduate with a portfolio waiver/exception. If students can show that they have mastered the material in class, they can still graduate.

Anonymous said...

Also, recent articles in the Boston Globe and Commonwealth Magazine are discussing schools that combine middle schools with either elementary schools (K-8) or with high schools (6-12).

It seems that a lot of the problems that occur in high school actually begin in middle school. Middle schools lack accountability because students are only there for 3 years and move on to high school. There is a lack of incentive for teachers and students to form relationships.

By combining middle and high schools you ensure that students may have a teacher multiple times. Therefore, that teacher will be better to gauge how that students has progressed. Also, combined middle/high schools will leave no escape for accountability - the schools can't blame each other.

With Morton and Kuss yet to be built, perhaps we should consider a 2nd high school that would include middle schools as well and the empty space at Durfee could also be filled with Middle School students.

Lefty said...

I'm this the same Anon?

I'll have to do so more reading because I had no idea about the accommodations or the portfolio. I do seem to remember that a student who failed MCAS but otherwise passed could receive a certificate of completion not graduation.

Again, I'll have to check my facts. Certainly no matter how you look at it we need to expend more effort to make sure more of our students graduate from high school.

Lefty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lefty said...

Whoops...deleted the wrong post by mistake!

To recap, Anon stated that all students must take the MCAS test in one form or another. Students who are deemed unable to take the standard test are either given the test with accommodations or given the MCAS Alternate Assessment.

1. Standard MCAS
2. MCAS with accommodations
3. MCAS-Alt

Anon, feel free to correct me if I am wrong in this recap, I apologize for deleting the post.

Lefty said...

If I am understanding the DOE report correctly a student must meet the MCAS requirement to be considered a "graduate" by definition of the report.

See the 'notes' section

Anonymous said...

This topic has been stagnant so maybe I can facilitate some new discussion.

New Bedford School Expenditures: $125,501,104

Fall River School Expenditures:


Lefty said...


So basically subtracting $98,783,866 from $125,501,104, shows that New Bedford spends 26,717,238 more than Fall River in school expenditures.

Doing some rough math I see that New Bedford has 2,647 more students than Fall River. Both Fall River and New Bedford spend $7,421 per student for "regular education", (more is spent for Special Ed, Occupational Ed, etc. ) so even at $7,421 for 2,647 students is 19.6 million.

Now New Bedford has more teachers (90) and on average pays them the difference between Fall River and New Bedford is roughly 7.2 million..

+ 7.2

So I would say the difference is basically the cost of New Bedford having more students and more teachers to teach them.

Roger Williams said...

Abaaaaanddoooooooneeed blogg!

Lefty said...

No need to panic Roger..the new post is already up and I'll a few more in the next few days!