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Chicago reports record-high graduation rate after pandemic interrupted spring learning

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Chicago reported increases in graduation rates across all races of students and said it used a new methodology to calculate numbers.
Getty Images/EyeEm

Chicago students graduated from high school at a record rate last spring amid the pandemic’s intense disruption to learning.

City officials said at a Friday press conference that 82.5% of students graduated in five years last spring, an uptick of almost 2 percentage points over last year. The increase was driven by growth in the percentage of Latino and Black students who finished school, though stark disparities in graduation rates remain. That includes a gap of 15 percentage points between the rates for Black students and their Asian peers. Asian students remained the group with the district’s highest graduation rate, even though that rate slipped slightly in recent years.

The district calculated rates using a new methodology that it said better accounted for freshmen who drop out and re-enroll later and for older students with disabilities who complete school at age 22.

In announcing the district’s 2019-2020 graduation rates, officials said the numbers showed resilience in the face of the coronavirus upheaval, which abruptly shifted learning online and challenged schools in unprecedented ways.

As for whether the growth also reflected efforts by educators and schools to give students grace as many struggled with the transition to remote learning — from paring down assignments to offering more time to complete school work — schools chief Janice Jackson said the graduation rates gains were “baked in” over students’ entire high school careers, before the pandemic hit.

Jackson said the news offers “the perfect note of optimism” to kick off the new school year next week.

“Instead of taking a step back, our students managed to take a leap forward,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who credited Jackson’s leadership.“This is incredibly great news when you consider the challenges we all faced this past year, especially our students.”

The five-year graduation rate represents students who started high school five years ago and graduated this past spring or in most cases last year, before the pandemic. But the district also posted a record high four-year graduation rate, with more than 80% of students graduating on time in 2020.

Chicago’s five-year graduation rate first crested at 70% in 2016, and year-over-year growth has been a point of pride for city officials, with the rate nearing 80% last school year. In 2010, Chicago’s graduation rate hovered around 55%.

But not all racial groups are completing high school at the same rate — a point of concern for administrators.

In 2020, according to the new methodology, 84.5% of Latino students graduated, a 2.2 percentage-point increase over the previous year, and 78% of Black students graduated, an increase of 1.2 percentage points. Black students posted the highest increase of any racial group since 2017.

White students graduated at a rate of 89%, and Asian students at 92%.

Because of declining enrollment in the district, about 200 fewer students got diplomas last spring compared with 2019 despite the higher graduation rate, or a total 21,069 students.

District officials also noted the 2020 dropout rate was the lowest on record: 5.6%, a slight decrease from the previous year. But they stressed that the pandemic and resulting school closures made it challenging to track that rate because schools could not readily distinguish between students who dropped out and those who temporarily disengaged from virtual classes.

Designed in tandem with the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research, the district’s new methodology led it to announce revisions in previous years’ rates that raised the numbers by 1 to 2 percentage points across the past four years, with the district revising the 2018-2019 rates from 78.9% to 80.9%.

Chicago has previously come under scrutiny in years past for inflating its graduation numbers. Officials stressed their approach has remained “conservative” and relatively unchanged in recent years.

District data have historically shown that girls consistently finish high school at higher rates than boys, with Black girls, for instance, completing high school at a rate of almost 85% and Black boys finishing at a rate of 71%.

As in previous years, the individual schools reporting the highest rates tended to be the district’s selective enrollment schools. Of the 10 schools reporting the highest rates for last school year, seven are selective enrollment. That list includes Whitney Young, Northside College Prep, Walter Payton, Lane Tech, Jones College Prep, Hancock High School, Perspectives - Joslin High School, Back of the Yards, Westinghouse, and Williams High School.

The district waived some graduation requirements during the pandemic, such as its service learning requirement and expectation to take the SAT, which was not available last spring. But overall, officials said they stayed a course of holding students accountable, including a more stringent grading policy that some students and advocates criticized.

So Jackson dismissed the idea that more understanding educators and schools played a role in the graduation rate increase.

“These were anticipated results based on the totality of students’ high school experiences,” she said. “Those numbers are already baked.”

City leaders vowed to maintain the academic momentum into what is shaping up to be a challenging school year, which begins virtually for all district students.

“Even in the midst of a public health emergency, we’ll do our best to make sure Chicago students have access to high-quality education,” Jackson said. “We are not taking our foot off the gas.”

Find your school’s 5-year graduation rate

School Name Graduation rate Percentage point change Number of graduates
School Name Graduation rate Percentage point change Number of graduates
Whitney M Young Magnet High School 98.1% -0.7% 408
Northside College Preparatory High School 97.5% -1.3% 268
Walter Payton College Preparatory High School 97.3% +0.4% 217
Albert G Lane Technical High School 96.9% +0.2% 1,074
William Jones College Preparatory High School 96.7% +0.4% 404
Ray Graham Training Center High School 96.4% +9.5% 188
Perspectives - Rodney D. Joslin 96.2% +0.6% 51
Back of the Yards IB HS 96.0% -1.3% 240
George Westinghouse College Prep 95.8% +0.7% 272
Daniel Hale Williams Prep School of Medicine 95.3% +2.9% 61
Kenwood Academy High School 95.0% +1.7% 321
Acero Charter Schools - Major Hector P. Garcia MD 95.0% +8.4% 152
Dr Martin Luther King Jr College Prep HS 94.8% -2.1% 145
Infinity Math Science and Technology High School 94.7% +1.2% 108
Noble - Pritzker College Prep 94.2% +5.1% 243
Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy HS 94.1% +1.1% 208
Ogden International High School 94.0% -0.4% 79
Noble - UIC College Prep 93.7% +2.7% 207
Noble - Rauner College Prep 93.6% +4.1% 160
George Washington Carver Military Academy HS 93.4% -2.8% 99
Noble - Noble College Prep 93.4% +2.0% 156
Chicago Math and Science Academy Charter School 93.4% +8.0% 71
Marine Leadership Academy at Ames 93.2% +2.8% 179
Charles Allen Prosser Career Academy High School 93.0% +2.3% 317
Friedrich W von Steuben Metropolitan Science HS 92.9% +1.4% 395
University of Chicago - Woodlawn 92.9% +14.0% 105
Hyman G Rickover Naval Academy High School 92.8% +4.2% 128
Noble - Muchin College Prep 92.3% -1.5% 229
CICS - Northtown 92.1% 199
Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy 92.0% -0.3% 206
Robert Lindblom Math & Science Academy HS 91.8% -4.0% 269
Noble - Chicago Bulls College Prep 91.2% +3.0% 291
Perspectives - Math and Science Academy 91.2% +9.1% 104
Disney II Magnet High School 91.0% +9.5% 101
Greater Lawndale High School For Social Justice 90.7% +3.9% 78
Phoenix Military Academy High School 90.3% -5.5% 139
Richard T Crane Medical Preparatory HS 90.3% +1.1% 139
South Shore Intl College Prep High School 90.0% -4.4% 135
Intrinsic Charter School 89.9% +2.7% 151
Acero Charter Schools - Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz 89.6% +9.6% 43
Catalyst - Maria Charter School 89.1% +11.1% 122
Noble - Gary Comer College Prep 88.9% +3.6% 193
Eric Solorio Academy High School 88.8% -1.4% 237
Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences 88.5% +3.4% 154
Neal F Simeon Career Academy High School 88.4% -1.2% 245
William Howard Taft High School 88.4% +4.5% 571
Roald Amundsen High School 88.3% +4.5% 263
Lake View High School 87.7% +1.1% 272
Bronzeville Scholastic Academy High School 87.4% +1.6% 90
Chicago Military Academy High School 87.0% -3.6% 47
Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts) 87.0% +1.3% 127
Noble - Golder College Prep 86.8% +1.1% 145
George Washington High School 86.5% +6.1% 288
Noble - ITW David Speer Academy 86.2% +0.7% 337
Gurdon S Hubbard High School 86.2% +2.6% 392
Lincoln Park High School 85.6% -4.0% 369
Michele Clark Academic Prep Magnet High School 85.6% +1.8% 113
Morgan Park High School 85.6% +7.1% 286
Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy 85.3% -2.0% 157
Chicago Academy High School 85.1% -0.1% 120
Noble - John and Eunice Johnson College Prep 84.7% +12.9% 232
CICS - ChicagoQuest North 84.6% +4.0% 33
Roberto Clemente Community Academy High School 84.5% +1.8% 180
Noble - The Noble Academy 84.0% +4.2% 84
Noble - Butler College Prep 84.0% +4.4% 158
EPIC Academy Charter High School 83.7% +4.3% 118
Horizon Science Academy Southwest Chicago Charter 83.7% 41
Multicultural Academy of Scholarship 83.6% +3.6% 51
ASPIRA Charter School - Mirta Ramirez 83.3% +18.8% 10
Nicholas Senn High School 83.2% +1.2% 253
North-Grand High School 82.9% +2.3% 209
Urban Prep Academy for Young Men - Bronzeville 82.6% +8.9% 76
Acero Charter Schools - Victoria Soto 82.6% +9.6% 157
Stephen T Mather High School 82.5% +3.4% 298
ASPIRA Business and Finance 81.8% 121
CICS - Longwood 81.3% -4.1% 74
John F Kennedy High School 80.7% +1.5% 335
Noble - DRW College Prep 80.3% +11.1% 167
Noble - Hansberry College Prep 80.2% -6.4% 166
North Lawndale College Prep - Christiana 80.2% +8.9% 81
Percy L Julian High School 79.9% +3.2% 119
Louisa May Alcott College Preparatory HS 79.8% -12.3% 71
Chicago Vocational Career Academy High School 79.7% +5.7% 165
Air Force Academy High School 79.6% -4.8% 74
William J Bogan High School 79.2% +1.1% 141
Perspectives - Leadership Academy 79.2% +2.2% 84
CICS - Ralph Ellison 79.1% -0.9% 91
Perspectives - High School of Technology 79.1% +1.1% 72
Chicago Technology Academy High School 78.9% -10.0% 45
Marie Sklodowska Curie Metropolitan High School 78.5% -0.3% 578
Legal Prep Charter Academy 78.1% +6.3% 50
Benito Juarez Community Academy High School 78.0% -4.4% 369
Noble - Baker College Prep 77.8% -3.4% 119
Urban Prep Academy for Young Men - Englewood 77.1% -3.1% 74
World Language Academy High School 77.0% -7.3% 57
Spry Community Links High School 76.9% +3.2% 30
Al Raby High School 76.5% +1.7% 88
Hyde Park Academy High School 76.4% -0.7% 155
Austin Polytechnical Academy High School 76.2% +15.6% 16
Theodore Roosevelt High School 75.4% +6.0% 169
John Marshall Metropolitan High School 73.8% +5.9% 62
North Lawndale College Prep - Collins 73.7% +0.3% 84
Edwin G. Foreman College and Career Academy 73.7% +7.6% 126
Young Women's Leadership Charter School 73.4% -5.2% 80
ASPIRA Charter School - Early College High School 73.1% +2.6% 68
Charles P Steinmetz College Preparatory HS 73.0% -0.8% 189
Noble - Rowe-Clark Math and Science Academy 72.9% -6.0% 97
Thomas Kelly College Preparatory 72.4% +4.1% 437
Wells Community Academy High School 71.4% -2.9% 40
David G Farragut Career Academy High School 71.1% +3.3% 143
Carl Schurz High School 71.0% +0.7% 252
Uplift Community High School 69.9% -17.4% 58
Frederick A Douglass Academy High School 69.7% +5.4% 23
George H Corliss High School 68.6% +0.9% 59
Paul Laurence Dunbar Career Academy High School 68.0% -0.2% 100
Gage Park High School 66.7% -4.2% 56
Emil G Hirsch Metropolitan High School 66.7% +14.4% 20
Wendell Phillips Academy High School 66.7% +2.9% 98
Bowen High School 63.6% +0.7% 49
Roger C Sullivan High School 63.4% -7.9% 104
Urban Prep Academy for Young Men, West Campus 62.9% -10.4% 56
Collins Academy High School 62.9% +2.4% 39
Ellen H Richards Career Academy High School 61.7% -5.0% 50
Marine Leadership Academy 60.0% +6.4% 24
Edward Tilden Career Community Academy HS 59.7% -0.9% 40
Austin College and Career Academy High School 58.8% -1.8% 10
Chicago Virtual Charter School 58.8% -7.9% 20
Kelvyn Park High School 58.2% -4.0% 46
William Rainey Harper High School 57.6% -12.4% 34
John M Harlan Community Academy High School 55.7% -6.7% 64
Chicago Talent Development High School 55.2% -7.0% 16
Christian Fenger Academy High School 53.1% -17.3% 26
Manley Career Academy High School 52.5% +4.7% 21
Hope College Preparatory High School 51.2% -16.3% 22
Dusable Leadership Academy 48.5% -18.2% 16
Orr Academy High School 46.7% +12.1% 43
ACE Technical Charter High School 28.1% -43.9% 27
ACE Amandla Charter High School 22.2% -17.2% 6
Northside Learning Center High School 6.7% +6.7% 1

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