Graduating on time, but not college-ready

New state reports show more Colorado high school students are graduating in four years but a third of those enrolling in state colleges and universities must still take remedial classes, mostly in math.

Wednesday, the Colorado Department of Education released the first “on-time” graduation rates showing 72.4 percent of the statewide Class of 2010 earned their diplomas in four years, up from 70.7 percent the year before.

Denver Public Schools led the state’s largest districts in increasing its four-year graduation rate by 5.4 percentage points, from 46.4 percent in 2009 to 51.8 percent in 2010.

But DPS also has seen its remediation rate rise steadily for the past five years, reaching 59 percent for its graduates entering Colorado colleges or universities in fall 2009.

Statewide, nearly a third of all Colorado high school graduates attending a state college or university must enroll in a remedial math, writing or reading class, according to a report released Feb. 4 by the Colorado Department of Higher Education. The remediation rate has changed little since 2005.

The price tag estimated for remedial instruction in 2009-10 is $19.1 million from the state’s general fund, the report states, not counting the $6.7 million in tuition that students pay for the classes.

Calculating “on-time” graduation rates

The new four-year graduation rate is required under the No Child Left Behind Act, largely to allow for comparisons among states. By 2011, 48 states are slated to use the same “on-time” rate.

The method assigns students a graduating class when they enter high school as freshmen and assumes they’ll graduate four years later. Under the old method, students taking longer than four years to graduate were included in overall calculations.

Four-year graduation rates
Statewide, 2010
  • Girls – 76 percent
  • Boys – 69 percent
  • Asian – 82 percent
  • Black – 64 percent
  • Hispanic – 56 percent
  • Native American – 50 percent
  • White – 80 percent

Colorado’s 2010 graduation rate is slightly lower under the new method than the old – 72.4 percent vs. 73.3 percent. Most large school districts saw similarly small declines with the new rate. For example, Jefferson County Public Schools’ 2010 graduation rate is 78.1 percent with the new formula and 79.2 percent with the old.

But for some, the different calculation is having a much larger impact.

That includes schools with alternative programs designed for struggling students, who take longer to graduate, and those with concurrent enrollment or “fifth-year” programs, which award diplomas after a student has completed high school and some college.

At Abraham Lincoln High School in southwest Denver, a pioneer in concurrent enrollment, the school’s 2010 graduation rate is 71.6 percent under the old formula – and 51.7 percent under the new four-year calculation.

“In some cases, the new formula would appear to penalize districts that are making a concerted effort to keep students in school,” said the state’s deputy education commissioner, Diane Sirko.

“The new formula is not designed to send a message about the pros and cons of efforts to provide safety nets or genuine alternatives for students. The new formula provides a common definition nationwide for comparability’s sake – and that’s all.”

Four-year grad rates in the largest districts

Among the state’s ten largest school districts, Cherry Creek and Boulder posted the highest four-year graduation rates at 85 percent. Littleton Public Schools had the highest on-time rate in the metro area, at 87 percent.

Only one of the ten biggest districts had a graduation rate lower than 50 percent – Aurora Public Schools, with a 46 percent “on-time” rate. Denver Public Schools was next, at 52 percent, though Superintendent Tom Boasberg highlighted the 5.4-point growth in a morning press conference. The comparable statewide increase was 1.7 points.

“It’s very, very nice to see that progress, the highest of any major school district in the state and well above the state average,” he said.

Boasberg highlighted two “turnaround” schools, Bruce Randolph School and Martin Luther King Jr. Middle College, which had four-year rates topping 85 percent with their first graduating classes in 2010. Each of the 6-12 schools grew their high schools a year at a time.

Still, “We are very clear that our work is cut out for us,” he said.

Denver’s West High School has produced the highest remediation rate in the state for three consecutive years, with 90 percent of its graduates in fall 2009 needing remedial classes. The school’s four-year graduation rate in 2010 is 48 percent, the lowest of any traditional high school in the city.

DPS’ overall remediation rate is now the highest among the state’s ten largest district, edging out Aurora in the Feb. 4 report. Boasberg said more students are enrolled in college, through concurrent enrollment, and college-prep classes to better prepare them for education after high school.

“This speaks clearly to what we have been talking about is at the heart of our reforms – our level of rigor, the number of our kids who are consistently at or above grade level all the way through, is not where it needs to be,” he said.

Alternative, online programs impact graduation rates

Colorado’s worst four-year graduation rates were posted by smaller districts with large online or alternative programs.

That includes Vilas, in southeastern Colorado, which had an “on-time” graduation rate of 18 percent, and Julesburg, in the northeastern tip of the state, with a graduation rate of 20 percent. Both have online programs that dwarf their brick-and-mortar high schools.

Julesburg High, for example, has a four-year graduation rate of 90 percent while the online Insight School of Colorado has a graduation rate of 15 percent.

Similarly, the Englewood School District’s alternative school, Colorado’s Finest Alternative School, is some 70 students larger than its traditional high school. So combining Englewood High School’s 78 percent “on-time” graduation rate with the alternative school’s 13 percent rate nets the entire district a 40 percent four-year graduation rate.

Some districts parsed out their numbers to demonstrate strengths and weaknesses.

Jefferson County school district officials released a report showing the four-year graduation rate for neighborhood schools alone is 7 points higher than that of all schools, which includes charters and alternative programs.

And Denver pulled out its 11 alternative programs for a look at alternative vs. all other schools. The shift showed all other schools had a four-year graduation rate of 66 percent, or 13 points higher than the combined figure. The alternative school four-year graduation rate is just 5.6 percent.

Boasberg said nearly half of Denver’s alternative school students come from other districts. Alternative schools are defined by the state as having 95 percent of students with risk factors such as previously dropping out.

DPS serves a higher proportion of alternative students than other large districts. More than 20 percent of the 5,083 students who made up DPS’ potential Class of 2010 were enrolled in alternative schools. That compares to 15 percent in Aurora and fewer than 10 percent in Adams 12 Five Star, Boulder, Cherry Creek, Douglas and Jefferson counties.

“Our alternative schools are a critical resource, not just for the city of Denver, but for the region,” Boasberg said.

Graduation and remediation rates for state’s largest districts

Jefferson County

  • On-time graduation rate, Class of 2010 – 78.1%
  • Remediation rate, Class of 2009 – 25.8%

Denver Public Schools

  • On-time graduation rate, Class of 2010 – 51.8%
  • Remediation rate, Class of 2009 – 59.0%

Douglas County

  • On-time graduation rate, Class of 2010 – 83.1%
  • Remediation rate, Class of 2009 – 20.5%

Cherry Creek

  • On-time graduation rate, Class of 2010 – 84.7%
  • Remediation rate, Class of 2009 – 26.8%

Adams 12 Five Star

  • On-time graduation rate, Class of 2010 – 61.7%
  • Remediation rate, Class of 2009 – 31.0%

Aurora Public Schools

  • On-time graduation rate, Class of 2010 – 45.5%
  • Remediation rate, Class of 2009 – 55.1%

*EdNews’ remediation rates calculation includes only high schools within each district with at least 25 graduates attending a Colorado college or university.
**Sources: Colorado Department of Education, Colorado Department of Higher Education.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”