Baltimore continues to lead area school systems in improving its dropout rate, and most districts in the region are making progress in graduating more students in four years, according to new high school data released Monday by the Maryland State Department of Education.
Statewide, the Class of 2012 saw steady growth in the percentage of students who earned a high school diploma in four years at 83.6 percent, up from 82.8 percent of students who graduated in 2011. Meanwhile, the number of students who dropped out in 2012 fell to 10.3 percent, down from 11.2 percent, according to the department.
Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties saw the largest bumps among area districts in four-year graduation rates, with increases of about 2 percentage points each. The city's 3.3 percentage point decline in dropouts, to 14.1 percent, was the largest in the region.
State schools Superintendent Lillian Lowery said ensuring that students obtain a high school diploma remains a "critical effort" in the state's focus on preparing students for colleges and careers.
"We are not satisfied with the graduation numbers," Lowery said in a statement, "but the new data indicates we are on the right road."
The numbers are four-year "cohort rates," a new formula the state implemented last year that tracks every student from the time they enter high school until they graduate or drop out four or five years later. They include students who started high school in the fall of 2008. Five-year cohort data has not yet been released.
Baltimore school officials said that while the city's four-year graduation rate remained flat at 66 percent in 2012, it awarded 149 more diplomas than in 2011. City officials said they are waiting for the five-year rate to complete the overall picture of how many students are finishing high school.
"It's showing that our kids can persevere and really want to graduate," said Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger, the system's chief accountability officer. "So that's important to us."
Bell-Ellwanger said that not only is the five-year rate used in the state's new accountability measures, called the School Progress Index, but it also reflects the increased number of students who are choosing to stay in school. In the last two years, the city's four-year cohort dropout rate has declined a total of 9.7 percentage points.
"The kids who could have dropped out are many of those students who may be in their fifth year," Bell-Ellwanger said.
Baltimore County — whose number of dropouts has exceeded Baltimore City's in recent years — also noted a decline in its dropout rate, from 13 percent in 2011 to 11 percent in 2012.
The county school system said programs such as Maryland's Tomorrow and AdvancePath Academies, which offer personalized classes for at-risk students using online instruction, have improved its dropout rate and helped increase its graduation rate, which was 83.8 percent.
"We are pleased with our progress," Superintendent Dallas Dance said in a statement, "but we must accelerate its pace.
"Our goal is that all of the instructional changes and enhancements we are making now will lead to increased student engagement and success throughout their tenure in our schools."
Anne Arundel County schools saw the graduation rate increase to 85.4 percent and the dropout rate fall from 11.8 percent in 2011 to 10.2 percent in 2012. Officials attributed the improvement to efforts in the system to help students who have historically had the most difficulty.
"Our double-digit gains for special-education students at Glen Burnie, African-American students at North County, and children in poverty at both Arundel and North County are proof that our efforts are paying off," said schools spokesman Bob Mosier. "Our challenge is to continue to enhance these efforts and to replicate these successes for all of our students at all of our schools."
Howard County schools' 90.4 percent graduation rate and 6 percent dropout rate were essentially flat. Officials from Howard County did not respond to requests for comment.
Harford County schools noted a graduation rate of 88.4 percent, a 1-point increase from 2011; the system's dropout rate dropped slightly to 8.4 percent.
Carroll County schools had a graduation rate greater than 95 percent, Superintendent Stephen Guthrie said at a Feb. 5 budget forum. The system had a dropout rate of 3.2 percent.
"People move here to go to our schools," he said.