Collingswood Graduation Rates Down, but 'a Story Behind the Numbers'
Superintendent Scott Oswald says that behind every student who fails to graduate Collingswood High School is a story that every teacher there knows.
According to the latest report from the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE), the Collingswood High School graduation rate fell about 5 percent last year, from 86.55 in 2011 to 81.33 percent in 2012.
And although the figures are calculated using a new formula that Collingswood Superintendent Scott Oswald says is “probably the tightest it’s ever been” in terms of meaningful data, there are still a number of factors that come into play when a student doesn’t make it to the finish line.
“Behind every single student who takes us below 100 percent, there is a story,” Oswald said, “and it’s a story that’s well known to the teachers and administrators in the high school.”
“Any student who comes to CHS wanting a high school diploma, is able to get in [to school] every day, with some stability at home, will do well and get a high school diploma,” Oswald said.
“There are more safeguards in place over there than I’ve ever seen in a school in my lifetime.”
At a glance
For a snapshot of high school graduation rates in the county after the four-year cohort adjustment, see the table below.
Although Collingswood only ranked 19th of 23 in the county, the district was within 9 percentage points of Audubon and Haddon Township and within 7 of nearby Haddon Heights.
Outliers Haddonfield, Eastern, Cherry Hill East and some of the vocational and magnet schools in the county far outperformed others in the group; Camden and Woodrow Wilson high schools brought up the rear.
|High School||2012 Grad. Rate||2011 Grad. Rate|
|Haddonfield Memorial H.S.||100.00%||97.24%|
|Brimm Medical Arts H.S.||97.83%||92.42%|
|Challenge Square Academy||96.67%||76.19%|
|Cherry Hill High-East H.S.||96.51%||97.50%|
|Camden Co.Technical V.S. (Glo.)||94.64%||94.63%|
|Camden Co. Techical V.S. (Penn.)||92.90%||94.15%|
|Haddon Township H.S.||89.87%||93.49%|
|Cherry Hill High-West H.S.||89.66%||91.21%|
|Timber Creek H.S.||88.74%||93.37%|
|Haddon Heights H.S.||87.85%||88.11%|
|Gloucester City Jr. Sr. H.S.||86.62%||83.02%|
|Collingswood Senior H.S.||81.33%||86.55%|
|Winslow Twp. H.S.||75.83%||78.84%|
|Woodrow Wilson H.S.||46.10%||55.26%|
Numbers hard to come by
The new formula by which the DOE calculates graduation rates now takes into account what’s called the “four-year graduation cohort.” It’s basically calculated by dividing the number of students who earned their diploma by the number of ninth-graders who entered the same graduating class four years earlier.
That number can be difficult to pin down in some ways at CHS. For one, the borough is not only a receiving district of children from Oaklyn and Woodlynne, but there is a significant population of renters in town, which means there are constantly students who move in and out of the system, Oswald said. The new formula requires students to track the graduation status of those who transfer out of the district.
“A rental community will bring that just because it’s the nature,” he said. “When your kids move from school to school, that mobility has an academic impact.”
So, for example, just because Patch has a count of 205 graduates in the CHS Class of 2012 and 217 graduates in the Class of 2011, there could be a number of reasons why those figures are off. Oswald couldn’t pin down a specific head count to tie to the percentage difference calculated by the DOE.
“In the past, it was really up to the individual states to decide how they measured the graduation rates, and every state did it differently,” he said.
“The old method was not particularly valid or helpful; you could graduate 105 percent if you had five new enrollees [in the graduating year].”
Under the current system, for any student who leaves the school district before graduating, Collingswood Public Schools must login to a state website and indicate the reason why.
While saying that teachers “do everything that’s possible to keep those kids in school,” Oswald said that some kids “just disappear.
“They come from another country or another state, or they live in some nontraditional household situation, and they go live with aunt and uncle and someone in another state,” he said.
The mobility of Collingswood families is also felt within the school system in other ways, Oswald says, some of them cultural.
He described the population of English language-learners (ELL students) at the school as “exploding,” and said that it won’t be long before, demographically, other schools in the region start to encounter the same issue.
“We get some kids who come into the country at 17 years old and who’ve never been to school in their lives,” Oswald said.
Then there are other students who enter the school district with gaps in their education; say, a junior who enters the system with only enough credits to qualify as a sophomore.
The chance that that student will make up another 30 credits through the next two years successfully is slim, Oswald said, and the district “will get charged with that child not graduating in that four-year cohort.”
Some kids who come into the system behind a year can graduate after a year of catch-up, he said. But still, according to the new statewide model, “since we are the last school of enrollment, we will be the school of record for that kid as to why they’re not graduating at that time.”
Regardless of the reason, Oswald says, the district has established a variety of safeguards to try to aid student achievement.
“We look at every case, whether it’s part of the 5 percent or part of the bigger number, and look at why this student is not successful,” he said.
Among the variety of measures in place to protect students, Oswald said, are more tightly integrated staff discussions about academically at-risk students, peer mentoring groups, and individual benchmarking, which he calls the “accountability program.”
Students who earn a D or an F in a benchmark exam on a major academic subject—English, math, social studies or science—receive extra after-school assistance from teachers to reinforce the concepts they’re supposed to be learning, Oswald said.
“The benchmark’s going to help us identify where there may be some gaps in the kid’s education that we can focus on and work on,” he said.
A senior-freshman mentoring project helps intervene with students who may be struggling at the outset of high school. The honor society also runs a peer tutoring program to plug other holes.
“If you went into the media center at 2:45 every day, you will see that place humming,” he said.
Ultimately, however, Oswald said, CHS measures its success by “the grade that shows up in the report card,” which, all too often, “might be indicative of the baggage that student is bringing with them.
“What frustrates us is that we have all these things in place and we still don’t have kids take advantage of them,” Oswald said. “There are still kids where the parent won’t call you back or just says ‘I don’t know what do to with him,’ or tells you what you want to hear and then [does] not follow through.”
“There are many who just don’t have that support coming from the home,” he said “and it doesn’t mean that those parents aren’t caring, great people who love them to death.”