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Michigan high school grad rates remain steady despite more rigorous standards

Jennifer Guerra
Michigan Radio

The graduation rate for the high school class of 2011remained relatively steady compared to the previous year, despite new science and math requirements students had to pass in order to graduate.

Wendy Zdeb-Roper is executive director of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals. She says most educators had "a certain degree of trepidation" when the requirements were introduced because they were concerned about graduation rates and how students would fare.

According to the Center for Educational Performance and Information, the average graduation rate drop by only a little more two percent – from 76 percent in 2010 to 74 percent in 2011, which is statistically insignificant:

"That number is pretty minimal compared to the Armageddon that was predicted," says Zdeb-Roper.

She points out that the tougher standards are also leading to better test scores for students. The average ACT score for the class of 2011 was 20, which is the highest it's been since the test became part of the state assessment in 2008.

The Detroit Free Press points out that not all districts did well under the new high school requirements.

River Rouge High School saw its graduation rate plummet nearly 25 percentage points -- to 40.45%. The dropout rate increased, from 7.50% to 21.35%. Detroit Public Schools saw its graduation rate drop 3 percentage points to 59.74%. The district's dropout rate increased nearly a percentage point to 20%. "The newest rate as well as the previous one should be considered unacceptable to our educational leaders in this city, as should the number of students who graduate but do so without college-readiness," Roy Roberts, the emergency manager for DPS, said in a statement Monday.

The new high school requirementswere approved by then-Governor Jennifer Granholm in 2006.

The only credit required before was a semester of civics. Now a minimum of 16 credits are required, including 4 years of math and English, and 3 years of science and social studies.

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and was one of the lead reporters on the award-winning education series Rebuilding Detroit Schools. Prior to working at Michigan Radio, Jennifer lived in New York where she was a producer at WFUV, an NPR station in the Bronx.
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