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Booker T. Washington High School seniors toss their graduation caps into the air last spring at the conclusion of their graduation ceremony at the Orpheum Theatre.

Booker T. Washington High School seniors toss their graduation caps into the air at the conclusion of their 2016 graduation ceremony at the Orpheum Theatre.

Brad Vest/The Commercial Appeal

Greater Memphis gets encouraging report on student graduation rates

Graduation rates for most Memphis-area schools climbed in 2015-16, with the city’s largest district enjoying an increase of almost 4 percent to 78.7 percent.

While well below the statewide average of 88.5 percent, the increased rate puts Shelby County Schools ahead of pace to reach the goal of 90 percent in its Destination 2025 strategic plan.

It’s also the second straight increase for the district, which saw a slight bump in 2014-15 based on about two dozen high schools.

“I’m extremely proud of this accomplishment,” Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said in a statement released Tuesday. “So much credit goes to our teachers, school leaders and district staff who work so hard every day to implement effective strategies for preparing our students for on-time graduation.”

Graduation rates for other Memphis-area districts were also up, except for in Millington and Tennessee’s Achievement School District:

  • Arlington Community Schools rose 1 percent to 96.4 percent;
  • Bartlett City Schools up 3.1 percent to 88.6 percent;
  • Collierville Schools rose 1.1 percent to 92.4 percent;
  • Germantown Municipal Schools increased 4.9 percent to 94.4 percent;
  • Millington Municipal Schools fell 3.1 percent to 81 percent.
  • The Achievement School District’s rate dropped more than 7 percent to 40.4 percent.

It’s significant to note that the ASD is tasked with turning around the state’s lowest-performing schools. Its graduation rate is based on four state-run high schools in Memphis, including two alternative schools.

“The dip in grad rate isn’t reflective of fewer ASD students graduating overall,” said Margo Roen, chief of strategy and portfolio management. “Instead it speaks to the challenges that many of our students have in graduating on time based on the number of earned credit hours they have when their schools join the ASD.”

Meanwhile, the statewide graduation rate of 88.5 percent is the highest on record since Tennessee changed to a more rigorous calculation of graduation rates in 2011. The state reported that about 60 percent of Tennessee’s 146 districts saw their graduation rates increase or stay the same when compared with last year’s rates.

Tennessee’s rising graduation rate received accolades from a national group last year for consistently outpacing the rest of the nation. However, another recent study pointed out the “jaw-dropping” gap between graduation rates and college readiness for black students in Tennessee. Seventy-eight percent of the state’s black students graduated from high school in 2013, but only 4 percent tested as college-ready in all four ACT-tested subjects, according to the report.

“… As more Tennessee students are earning their diplomas, we must ensure that they are all leaving with the knowledge and skills to be successful in college and the workforce,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Tuesday.

Other highlights of Tennessee’s 2015-16 graduation report include:

  • Twelve districts improved their graduation rates by 5 percentage points or more. Districts with the most significant gains were Alvin C. York, 18.1 percent; Tullahoma City, 11.6 percent; Trenton Special School District, 11.1 percent; and Grundy County, 10 percent.
  • 95 districts — over 70 percent of the districts in the state — have graduation rates at or above 90 percent, up from 81 districts last year. Fentress County, Alcoa City, South Carroll Special School District, Milan Special School District, Meigs County, and Crockett County all had graduation rates at or above 99 percent.
  • 76 districts — roughly 60 percent of districts in the state — had graduation rates at or above 90 percent for both 2014-15 and 2015-16.