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CPS reports highest five-year graduation rate “on record”

Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard meets with mediafter speaking parent training sessiChristian Fellowship Flock Church 10724 S. Ewing. Wednesday

Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard meets with the media after speaking to a parent training session at the Christian Fellowship Flock Church, 10724 S. Ewing. Wednesday, June 6, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Chicago Sun-Times.

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Updated: July 10, 2012 6:09AM

Before most Chicago Public School seniors even hit the graduation stage, CPS officials Saturday were projecting the highest five-year graduation rate in 14 years.

A CPS news release touted the projected rate of 60.6 percent as “the highest graduation rate on record.’’

However, the release did not explain that CPS has only been calculating five-year rates, based on how many freshmen graduate within five years, for 14 years. The state requires public schools to calculate a four-year rate for official counts sent home to parents.

Even so, the projected 2012 graduation rate reflected the third-largest uptick ever in a five-year CPS rate. It was up 2.3 percentage points from 2011 —- not quite as large a gain as the 2.5-percentage-point gain the year before or the 2.4-percentage-point gain in 2006.

“These results are impressive, but we have more work to do in ensuring that every child in our district graduates ready for college and career,’’ Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said in a news release.

CPS officials are hoping the longer school day they plan to impose next year, along with a tougher curriculum and a new way of evaluating teachers will yield even more academic gains.

The graduation rate is the first academic indicator CPS has released that reflects the first full year of Brizard’s tenure. Mayor Rahm Emanuel cited the improvements Brizard produced in the graduation rate in Rochester, N.Y., where Brizard had served as superintendent, in choosing him last April to lead the nation’s third-largest school district.

How much of the five-year increase could be attributed to Brizard’s one year of work was not clear. But principals and experts credited in part an early warning system, set up by former Schools CEO Ron Huberman, that helps identify kids who have fallen off track to graduate and codes them as “red, yellow or green’’ in terms of the help they need.

As a result, said Phoenix Military Academy Principal Ferdinand Wipachit, “When freshmen walk into Phoenix, we know their deficiencies immediately. Let’s say a kid is ‘yellow’ in English; then we remediate immediately in English in the ninth grade.”

Huberman elevated the use of data with such tracking systems, said Barbara Radner of DePaul University’s Center for Urban Education, but Brizard has been even more systematic about asking the question “what are you doing about it?’’

A 2.3-percentage-point gain in the graduation rate “may look like a small percentage but it’s a very big step,’’ Radner said, “especially when you think that means thousands of kids who have more possibilities.’’

CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler noted that many CPS students are entering high school better prepared, “due to investments we’ve made at the elementary level.” And once students reach high school, she said, “CPS has focused on programs that not only boost student’s academic achievement but also strive to keep our students in school.”

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