Commentary and Data on Madison’s High School Graduation Data

Simpson Street Free Press:

Today, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction released high school graduation data for the 2017-2018 academic year. Madison Metropolitan School District’s 4-year grad rates declined for both black and white students — to 65.6% and 87.8%, respectively. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, district officials “are pleased with the trajectory of minority and low-income students graduating in four years, despite a drop in the graduation rate for black students last year.”

But is this positive trajectory really something to celebrate? Wisconsin students don’t have to pass a state assessment to graduate. And national research has, for some time, questioned the truth behind the numbers.

In 2017, only 9% of MMSD’s black students met college-readiness benchmarks on the ACT in reading and math. How do we reconcile this with the 65.6% grad rate for black students the following year?

SSFP first voiced concerns about the focus on grad rates in a special report this summer. Today’s news leaves us more troubled. Of course we want our students to graduate on time. But we want our graduates to be prepared for the rigors of college and career.

Like Dr. Cheatham, we are “unsatisfied.” We stand behind the district’s commitment to “prepare students not just to graduate but for what comes after high school.” We hope this includes squaring positive grad rate trajectories with a less positive reality: too many of our students–and way too many of our students of color– aren’t graduating with the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.

Charts via Laurie Frost and Jeff Henriques.

Notes and links on the 2019 Madison School Board election, here.

“The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”.