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New State Data Shows 78.8% of BPS Students in the Class of 2021 Graduated In Four Years

New State Data Shows 78.8% of BPS Students in the Class of 2021 Graduated In Four Years

Data also highlights that schools and student groups recorded lower dropout rates with the overall district rate at 2%

BOSTON – February 18, 2022 – Boston Public Schools (BPS) recorded a four-year cohort graduation rate of 78.8% in 2021, rising 3.4 percentage points from 75.4% in 2020 while the district is implementing newer, higher expectations for students to earn a diploma. Graduation and dropout data was released today by the state and showed that over the past 15 years, the rate of students graduating within a four-year period has increased nearly 20 percentage points.

As part of the data released today, BPS students from all major backgrounds saw increases in four-year graduation rates, including an 8 percentage point increase for students with disabilities. 

BPS has implemented a series of strategies over the past few years that in addition to the hard work of students, families, and teachers has led to the increase in the number of students qualifying for high school graduation. State graduation requirements were altered over the past two years due to the global pandemic.

“Thank you to our school communities for the intense, coordinated, proactive efforts in these challenging times to make sure our young people stay connected to opportunity,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “High school is an essential stepping stone for young people preparing for an enriching career and fulfilling life, and I look forward to continuing to boost access and opportunity in BPS.” 

BPS has focused on improving outcomes for high school students through a variety of efforts and investments, including:

  • Implementing the Quality Guarantee to ensure a baseline of services across all schools that is growing to include access to additional positions — such as a social worker, nurse, family liaison, guidance counselor, school psychologist, and librarian —  as well as increasing access to services and investing in upgrades to facilities
  • Passing and adopting the Mass Core state standards to raise expectations and ensure students who graduate from high school are college and career ready coupled with new investments and supports for educators and schools to implement the work
  • Accessing the full suite of graduation expectations, including the state-approved modified competency determination process, which allows more students who complete approved coursework to demonstrate their readiness for graduation and beyond without taking the state test

“There is no greater reward to our work as educators than to see our students earn their diplomas. That is even more true these past two years while watching our students navigate this global pandemic with such strength and resilience,” said Superintendent Brenda Cassellius. “It is gratifying to see our students have the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and knowledge in multiple ways, including the state’s modified competency determination process. I am confident that future BPS graduates will continue on this promising trajectory.” 

In response to the suspension of in-person instruction and the cancellation of the spring 2020 MCAS assessments due to the COVID-19 emergency, the competency determination (CD) requirement for the class of 2021 was temporarily modified to allow students to earn the CD through successful completion of a relevant DESE-identified high school course, in lieu of MCAS testing. Students were able to qualify for high school graduation via achieving scores of proficient or higher on the MCAS exams and/or through coursework completion from a list of approved classes.

The majority of BPS students graduated by completing the full state requirements (local coursework and state test), representing 67.9% of the cohort. An additional 8% of students met the competency determination requirement through a combination of passing the MCAS exam and approved coursework, and 2.9% of students met the competency determination through the modified process. 

At Brighton High School, students in the Class of 2021 achieved a four-year graduation rate of 68.2%, an increase of 13.5 percentage points over the previous year. Head of School Andrew Bott said that the team’s singular focus has been on building relationships with students and families at the core of their work. They have worked intentionally to learn what each student needs and then design an individualized approach to meet those needs. This has included: 

  • expanding the choice of courses by adding 14 new offerings
  • including new classes such as principles of biomedical science, human body systems, Arabic, media, business/entrepreneurship, app. design, AP computer science, theater, music production, and additional electives in English and history
  • building two new career pathways — including a health careers pathway and a media, arts, design and entrepreneurship pathway

Additionally, the school has provided academic support and interventions to students in need of additional support. This approach was built into the school day, scheduled after school, in the evenings, or on weekends depending on the schedule that worked best for each student. 

Brighton also launched a robust and rigorous credit recovery program, accessed by more than 50 students who have recovered more than 80 credits since the start of the pandemic. The foundation for success is the strong relationships and mutual respect the team has built between all members of the school community. 

The modified graduation requirements were important to 12 graduating seniors from Brighton High who were able to demonstrate their mastery through their coursework and class grades rather than via MCAS. This process allowed one senior, who was also an English learner, to meet graduation requirements through strong grades in courses that included Pre-calculus, Advanced Placement (AP) Biology and AP Literature.

At Quincy Upper School, students in the Class of 2021 achieved a four-year graduation rate of 91.5%, an increase of 16.5 percentage points over the previous year. Head of School Richard Chang reports that the team there also works intentionally to forge relationships among students, families, and staff while also emphasizing the importance of students supporting each other. The school has focused in recent years on building a school culture that is focused on social justice and community building. Students have focused conversations on social and emotional wellbeing and the school has increased support via Student Success Teams to tailor approaches to individual student needs. The school has also invested in the social and emotional health of their staff members through leveraging Community & Culture Teacher Leaders.

Among other strategies, the Curriculum and Instructional leadership at Quincy Upper has worked to support all classroom teachers in developing rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum that engage all learners in grades 6–12, empowering them to higher levels of achievement.

Also of note, students at the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science achieved a 100% four-year graduation rate. Head of School Tanya Freeman-Wisdom shared that at the outset of remote learning, the school’s teachers continued to work overtime in support of students and families. Educators implemented an advisory program, completing wellbeing check-ins two to three times each week to ensure students' basic needs were met. Google Classroom was adopted universally and educators posted remote learning weekly previews that included the topics and assignments due the next week. 

Additionally, the O’Bryant established two “Graduation Champions” who closely monitored attendance and academic performance. The Graduation Champions also conducted daily student check-ins, weekly family meetings, and home visits. Finally, they utilized Edmentum and revised their grading philosophy to emphasize competency-based learning and assessment.

The annual dropout rate for Boston decreased by 1.9 percentage points, from 3.9% in SY19-20 to 2% in SY20-21. This represents 283 fewer students dropping out. This decrease occurred across all major student groups and all decreases were greater than 10%, indicating a significant decrease as defined by the state accountability system. 

The dropout rate is down more than five percentage points since 2008 when there was a dropout rate of 7.6% and a total of 1,396 students who dropped out.

“Seeing the dropout rate fall to 2% is a testament to the commitment of our high school educators and our staff at our reengagement center who knock on doors and break down barriers every day so our students get the support they need to succeed and not drop out or give up,” said Boston School Committee Chair Jeri Robinson. “I congratulate the students for this great accomplishment and thank their families, teachers, and staff for all they have done to ensure our students were ready to graduate.” 

For more information or to view graduation and dropout data, please visit the state’s website