Graduation rates rising, but many students not prepared for college

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Graduation rates for Greenville County Schools and South Carolina overall are rising.

Greenville County Schools’ on-time graduation rate — defined as earning a high school diploma in four years — increased from 84.2 percent in 2015 to 86.8 percent in 2016. Since 2012, the school district’s graduation rate has increased about 20 percent. The state’s graduation rate reached an “unprecedented 82.6 percent,” S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said when announcing the release of state report cards for schools and districts.

But while the rise in graduation rates has been celebrated, it may not necessarily translate into success for some students who earn a diploma. Recent ACT results showed that only 14 percent of South Carolina’s 2016 graduates met benchmarks on the ACT that indicate they’d succeed in college, while 83 percent of those students said they aspired to attend postsecondary education. It was the first year that all high school juniors were required to take the test. In past years, only students who planned to go to college took the test.

Seventeen percent of Greenville County students made scores on subject-level tests that ACT says gives them a 50 percent chance of obtaining a B or higher or a 75 percent chance of getting a C or higher in first-year college courses. The core subjects tested were English composition, algebra, reading and biology. Nationwide, 26 percent met the college readiness benchmark.

Greenville County attributes its graduation rise to increased opportunities for students to retake courses they’ve failed and a bigger push to provide help earlier to students who have fallen behind. Meanwhile, a new push at the middle school level in the White Horse Road corridor should help increase graduation rates in the future.

Graduation Rates

The graduation rate is calculated by dividing the number of students who graduated with a regular South Carolina diploma within four years of entering high school by the number of first-time ninth-graders, adding any students who transfer in and subtracting any who transfer to another diploma-granting school, emigrated or died. Students who take longer than four years to earn a diploma, an occupational diploma, a local or state certificate or a GED and students who leave school and whose status is not known or cannot be documented or who are incarcerated but do not enroll in a diploma-granting program are counted as non-graduates.

In Greenville County, five schools had graduation rates below the state average. Three had rates below 80 percent.

The two schools showing the most improvement are Carolina Academy, moving from 55.8 percent in 2011 to 75.8 in 2016, and Berea, which went from 63.1 percent to 80.9 percent.

At Carolina, 800 students were loaded up on 36 buses to tour colleges and industries in three states. For Carolina Principal Michael Delaney, it was just another way he and his staff are trying to change the culture at the school. At the beginning of their senior year, Delaney has students sign a graduation gown as their pledge to do everything they can to graduate.

Like Carolina students, Berea students will take a similar trip to colleges and industries.

Nearly 77 percent of Greenville County Schools’ Class of 2015 was enrolled in a two- or four-year college pursuing an associate degree, certificate or diploma in fall 2015. Nearly 39 percent of the members of Greenville County’s Class of 2016 were eligible for LIFE Scholarships.

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