More students are earning high school diplomas than ever before — a crucial indicator for success later in life.
New state data released Tuesday show that 77.8 percent of Florida students graduated last year, up more than seven percentage points in the last five years.
Miami-Dade’s graduation rate increased by the same amount, placing the fourth-largest district in the country above the state average with 78.1 percent. The district also graduated more black and Hispanic students than the state.
“We are elated,” said Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. “Without a high school diploma, your ability to economically, civically succeed is greatly diminished.”
In Broward, 76.6 percent of students graduated. The rate in Palm Beach was 79.4 percent.
“This news is further evidence that Florida’s public education system is serving our students well,” state education Commissioner Pam Stewart said in an emailed statement. “More students are achieving success by earning a diploma, which will enable them to pursue higher education and meaningful careers.”
The numbers reflect how many students graduated on time and with a standard high school diploma, rather than an equivalent like a GED.
Nationally, graduation rates are also climbing. The U.S. Department of Education announced in December that graduation rates across the country have reached an all-time high of 82 percent.
“It actually is really good news. There is no other indicator of life incomes that is more predictive than getting a high school diploma,” said Elaine Allensworth, director of the UChicago Consortium on School Research.
Research has shown that high school diploma holders are more likely to have jobs, less likely to end up in jail and more likely to live longer than those who don’t graduate.
Allensworth said increasing graduation rates are the payoff for collecting better data about who graduates and conducting more research into how to keep kids in school.
“It used to be people thought you couldn’t predict who would drop out,” she said. “Now, people know how to work on it.”
In Miami-Dade, the district focuses on early warnings, like poor attendance, to target specific kids as early as middle school for extra help. The district has added more minutes to the school day and additional class periods so students can catch up on extra credits, and also has added reading coaches at schools with high poverty.
Some of Miami-Dade’s most struggling schools posted impressive gains, such as Barbara Goleman Senior High in Miami Lakes. The school of 1,700 students improved its graduation rate by 11 percentage points since last year. Once one of the district’s lowest performers, the school graduated 83 percent of students last year — better than the state.
“The work ahead is not only maintaining high performance in these schools but actually being more strategic within these schools, even high performance schools,” Carvalho said.
Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie said school districts need to also think beyond graduation, making sure students have the skills it takes to do well in college and on the job.
“As a country and a society we need to recognize that there’s more to it than just a grad rate. The diploma’s got to mean something and it really has to be achieved in a way that we know children have acquired the skills required to compete,” he said.