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CPS announces low one-year dropouts and high freshmen “on-track-to-graduate” rate

Chicago Public Schools officials early Friday hailed more positive signs for the system: a record low one-year dropout rate and a record high freshmen “on-track-to-graduate” rate.

Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said in an embargoed statement that the 2011-2012 numbers were “another encouraging sign of progress.’’

The one-year dropout rate fell a half-percentage point to 7.6 percent, CPS officials said. Meanwhile, the percent of “on-track’’ freshmen increased 2.2 percentage points — to 74.8 percent, the highest level in 15 years, CPS officials said.

The on-track rate reflects the percent of freshmen who have no more than one F in a core subject per semester and who earned at least five course credits their freshmen year.

The “on-track’’ rate was developed by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research, which found that “on-track’’ CPS freshmen were 3.5 times more likely to graduate in four years than “off-track’’ ones.

Since that time, the measuring stick has taken on increased importance. The on-track rate and the one-year dropout rate are among the criteria used to divide CPS schools into three levels, with a “level 3’’ rating making a school more vulnerable to academic closure.

In a 2009 Chicago Sun-Times investigation called “Grading Games,’’ one in five CPS high school teachers reported feeling pressure to raise grades, with several citing the stakes attached to the freshmen on-track rate as one reason. Some said they were urged to give last-minute make-up work to flunkers in exchange for passing grades.

Wrote one teacher at the time: “You can’t completely be honest in grading students, otherwise the failure rate would be off the charts.’’

However, by email Thursday, CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler attributed the improved “on-track’’ rate to the establishment of “leadership teams’’ at each high school that focus on how to improve the metric. The fifth consecutive year of an improved “on-track’’ rate, combined with an uptick in the district’s ACT and graduation rates, indicates more students are graduating with improved academic performance, Ziegler said by email.

At Gage Park High last school year, said world studies teacher Xian Barrett, a grade-level team of freshmen teachers tried to reach struggling freshmen before they failed. Sometimes, a teacher with a struggling student would be offered ideas by a teacher who was having success with the same student — but in a different subject, he said.

“The teams give teachers the tools they need so they can get a student on track before its time to send out grades,’’ Barrett said.

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