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Howard County Public Schools Are Narrowing Achievement Gaps

Posted: April 27th, 2017

More Howard County public school students are entering college immediately after graduation, and achievement gaps in the areas of college enrollment and completion rates are narrowing between groups of students, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse.

“We’re pleased by the progress our schools are making in preparing all students for success in college and the workplace,” said Superintendent Renee A. Foose. “The most effective organizations rely on data to drive improvement, and the deep data and careful analysis in this report offers insights that will lead to more progress in closing achievement gaps.”

The Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) Division of Accountability recently studied and reported on college attendance and persistence among recent graduates and recommended specific strategies to further improve the outlook for success for HCPSS graduates. The April 2017 report, “Post-secondary Educational Outcomes for Graduates of the Howard County Public School System: 2009–2016,” is the latest in a series of annual research studies conducted by the school system. It provides the results of a detailed analysis of data provided by the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit organization that compiles college and degree attainment information for high school graduates throughout the nation.

The proportion of HCPSS graduates who enter college immediately after high school has increased notably, from 77.2 percent for 2009 graduates to 82.8 percent for the Class of 2016. An average of 93.1 percent of 2009 to 2015 fall college enrollees returned for a second year of college. More than 84 percent of 2009 fall full-time, four-year college enrollees earned a bachelor’s or higher degree within six years of high school graduation.

The report reveals some positive trends in narrowing gaps in college enrollment and completion rates among student groups. For example, the gap in fall enrollment between students who receive free and reduced price meal services (FARMS) and their more economically advantaged peers narrowed by 6.6 percentage points from a 27 percentage-point gap in 2009 to a 20.4 percentage-point gap in 2016. Especially encouraging was the 13.1 percentage-point increase in fall college enrollment among FARMS graduates that occurred between 2009 and 2016, and nearly 68 percent of the fall 2009 fall full-time, four-year college enrollees completed a bachelor’s or higher degree within six years.

Improvement in enrollment rates among HCPSS Hispanic students is equally promising, with the percentage enrolling in college immediately after graduation up by 10.7 percentage points, from 62.7 percent for 2011 to 73.4 percent in 2016. Comparisons for student ethnic groups prior to that year are not applicable, because federal racial/ethnic categories were revised in 2011. College completion rates for Hispanic students are even more impressive, with nearly 90 percent of 2009 fall full-time, four-year college enrollees completing a bachelor’s or higher degree within six years.

Fall college enrollment among African-American 2016 graduates was 73.6 percent, up from 73.1 percent for 2011. More than 75 percent of African-American 2009 fall full-time, four-year college enrollees completed a bachelor’s or graduate degree within six years.

The report provides several recommendations for improving post-secondary outcomes. These include beginning in the earliest grades to identify students at risk for not becoming college- and career-ready and addressing the underlying factors that inhibit academic achievement, examining the underlying causes for higher proportions of delayed enrollment among specific student groups, providing tools to assist students in identifying college and career interests, and other approaches that reinforce strategies embedded in the Vision 2018 strategic plan.

College attainment is just one of several areas where HCPSS can point to progress in closing the achievement gap. For example, while graduation rates for HCPSS students overall have risen more than 2.5 percentage points since 2011, the percentage of African-American and FARMS students graduating has risen 9.4 and 9.1 points respectively in that same period.

More African-American and Hispanic students are taking challenging Advanced Placement courses, which have proven to be effective preparation for college success. In 2016, 455 African-American students took at least one AP exam; collectively, they took a total of 854 exams, compared to 419 participating and 771 exams in 2015. Among Hispanic students, 265 took a total of 503 exams in 2016, an increase from 239 participating and 445 exams in the previous year.

SAT performance improvements for HCPSS African-American students are also notable: 2016 graduates earned an average composite score of 1422, a full 31 points higher than their 2012 counterparts. SAT participation for this group showed a greater increase than for the overall student body, with a 73.9 percent participation rate for African-American 2016 graduates, up by 2.2 percentage points over 2012, compared to a 1.8 percentage-point increase for HCPSS overall from 2012 to 2016.

ACT participation also is on the upswing, with 82.2 percent of HCPSS 2016 graduates taking the test, compared to 80.4 percent in 2012. The increase is especially significant among African-American and Hispanic graduates, which showed increases of 10.8 and 8.3 percentage points, respectively, since 2012.

The full “Post-secondary Educational Outcomes for Graduates of the Howard County Public School System: 2009–2016” report is available online.