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Another View on Grad Rates: Peter Huidekoper

Another View #131
Peter Huidekoper, Jr.
June 10, 2015

Higher graduation rates? A word of caution before we celebrate

In our state, the high school graduation statistics tell us little about what that degree means—in terms of a graduate’s knowledge and skills.  Last week’s 2014 Legislative Report on Remedial Education again makes that clear: ( Especially if you look at several high schools where the four-year graduation rate is impressive—but the (low) ACT scores and (high) remediation rates are not.

“… More than half of the states still have not made completing a college- and career-preparatory course of study, fully and verifiably aligned with state standards, a requirement for high school graduation. … It is not yet clear that most states will ultimately have a coherent and streamlined assessment system that both measures how well students are meeting state standards and lets high school students and postsecondary institutions know whether students are ready to enter and succeed in college courses without the need for remediation.”  (“Closing the Expectations Gap,” 2014 REPORT on the Alignment of State K–12 Policies & Practice with the Demands of College & Careers-

This is another example of my on-going concern about the “honesty gap” in education, to borrow the oft-heard phrase of late. No accusations of lying here, but I bring together data here that should encourage the state and districts, at a minimum, to ask questions.  My hope is for more than that.  Shouldn’t we insist on clear expectations of what it means to be a high school graduate in Colorado?  Most states do a better job of this, as a recent national report shows (see box).  That report commends Colorado for moving in a positive direction, thanks to changes approved by our state board in 2013 “spelling out what Colorado students must do to earn a high school diploma.”  However, the current majority on the board seems skeptical of that plan (  Many of us worry the board will renege on expectations agreed to two years ago, leaving us in even worse shape when it comes to giving real meaning to a high school degree.

Follow students at high schools over three years:

  1. junior year – their scores on the ACT;
  2. senior year – their graduation rates, and then
  3. the next fall, remediation rates for those entering a Colorado college.
2012 – ACT*


2013 grad rate** % – seniors 2013 remediation rate *** % – entering college
8 metro area high schools
Hinkley H.S. (AURORA PUBLIC SCHOOLS) 16.9 57.3 33.8
Sheridan H.S. (SHERIDAN) 16.7 60 47.4
Gateway H.S. (AURORA PUBLIC SCHOOLS) 16.5 56.7 56
Westminster H.S.(WESTMINSTER) 16.3 74 52.3
Alameda International H.S.(JEFFERSON COUNTY) 16.3 86.1 73.2
Adams City High School(ADAMS 14) 15.6 67.8 62.3
Aurora Central H.S.(AURORA PUBLIC SCHOOLS) 14.9 42.2 61
Jefferson High School(JEFFERSON COUNTY) 14.8 66.7 69.7
STATE 20.0 76.9 34.2

COMMENT – It is curious to see Westminster High and Alameda International with ACT scores of 16.3 – or 3.7 points below the state average, and yet, a year later, the graduation rates for that same class near the state average (74% at Westminster High), or are well above the state average (86.1% at Alameda International).  Any surprise that most of their graduates who went on to college that fall required remedial classes?



2013 grad rate**  % – seniors 2013 remediation rate*** % – entering college
Denver School of Science & Technology-Stapleton 24.1 86.9 7.5
Denver School of the Arts 22.3 97.5 18.4
East 21.4 91.5 36.9
George Washington 19.9 81 39.6
Denver Center for International Studies 19.4 89.5 42.4
Thomas Jefferson 19.4 84 42
KIPP Denver Collegiate 18.5 82.4 45
John Kennedy 18.2 74.8 43.8
Martin Luther King Early College 17.4 83.8 48.9
Southwest Early College 17.3 52.7 16.7
South 16.1 78.1 64.5
Manual H.S. 16.1 62.1
Bruce Randolph H.S. (6-12) 16.0 91.4 59.3
Abraham Lincoln 15.5 64.8 63.2
North* 15.2 56.7 81.4
Montbello H.S. (phased out) 15.0 61.2 62.5
West H.S. (phasing out) 14.9 45.2 88.9
DPS Average 17.6 61.3 BOLD–5 schools over 60%
STATE 20.0 76.9 34.2

  *Figures from CDE web site:

**Figures from Chalkbeat Colorado:

***Figures from the just released 2014 Remedial Education report.  

ACT scores – now more important than ever

In passing HB-1323, legislators have left the ACT as the only state mandated test after 10th grade. It is debatable whether ACT scores show how our students meet Colorado standards, but the results matter to colleges—hence they will matter to most students too.

Including all of Denver’s larger high schools, we begin to see a correspondence, as we might expect, between the ACT scores of the junior class in 2012 and the graduation rate for that class the following spring, in 2013.  The remediation rates at these schools also reveal a similar pattern—lower the ACT scores, the higher the remediation rates.

ACT scores 21 and above – close to 90% graduate. Remediation rates low at DSST and DSA. ACT scores between 18.5 and 21 – over 80% graduate. Remediation rates at 45% or below.

NOTE high grad rates at MLK Early College & Bruce Randolph.

ACT scores between 17.3 and 18.2 – in most cases, fewer than 80% graduate – except forMartin Luther King Early College.  Its high graduation rate of 83.8% rate is more consistent with schools where that class averaged one point higher on the ACT (see KIPP-18.5) or two points higher (see Thomas Jefferson-19.4).  Note that the average ACT score in the district was 17.6–similar to MLK’s average—and yet the district had a much lower graduation rate: over 22% points lower (61.3%) than MLK (83.8%).

ACT scores of 16.0 or 16.1 – fewer than 80% graduate in two cases (though the percent graduating at South was surprisingly high given such low ACT scores. The remediation rate for that class at South—64.5%—

is telling).  How odd, then, to see Bruce Randolph with an ACT average of only 16.0 for its juniors, and yet a year later, 91.4% of that class earned a degree. Not odd, though, that of the 27 Bruce Randolph graduates enrolled in higher education the next fall, 16 of them (59.3%) needed remedial classes.

A glance at the class of 2014

If these disparities from 2013 seem worth a closer look, consider ACT scores and graduation rates for the class of 2014.  They add to our doubts about the MLK and Bruce Randolph 2013 graduation rates, and they invite a question about the graduation rate at a third Denver high school, Abraham Lincoln.  They also give further reason to be skeptical of the graduation rate at Alameda High, as well as the “impressive” rates at Sheridan High and Adams City High—in spite of such low ACT results.

School 2013 – ACT


2014 grad rate


Remediation rate

TBD by DHE report in spring of 2016

Mapleton Expeditionary Sch. Of the Arts (7-12) – (Mapleton) 17.6 67.6 ?
Englewood H.S. (Englewood) 17.3 72.5 ?
Hinkley H.S. (APS) 17.1 57.1 ?
Martin Luther King Early College (DPS) 17.1 84.0 ?
Gateway H.S.  (APS) 16.5 52 ?
Sheridan H.S. (Sheridan) 16.4 82.7 ?
North H.S. (DPS) 16.3 69.6 ?
Adams City High School (Adams 14) 16.2 78.8 ?
Alameda International H.S. (JeffCo) 16.1 89.9 ?
Westminster H.S.(Westminster 50) 16.1 67.0 ?
Manual H.S. (DPS) 15.7 57.1 ?
Abraham Lincoln (DPS) 15.6 75.5 ?
Bruce Randolph H.S. (6-12) – (DPS) 15.2 62.6 ?
Jefferson H.S. (JeffCo) 15.1 65.1 ?
West H.S. (DPS) – being phased out 15.0 55.6 ?
Aurora Central H.S.  (APS) 15.0 46.2 ?
Average from these schools 16.1 67.6  
STATE AVERAGE 20.4*** 77.3  
NATION 20.9    

* Figures from CDE web site:

** Figures from Chalkbeat Colorado:

***If the ACT is the only state mandated test for 11th graders, we must be willing to take the results seriously.  As we see in Todd’s Engdahl’s excellent – if disheartening – analysis in 2013:

Martin Luther King Early College – grad rate 2013 – 83.8% and 2014 – 84%

In tracking the graduating class of 2014 at MLK Early College, we see slightly lower ACT scores for them (17.1) than for the class of 2013 (17.4), but the graduation rate remained remarkably high – 84% – when compared to schools with similar ACT results (see Gateway, Hinkley, and North).

Bruce Randolph – grad rate 2013 – 91.4% – DROPS DRAMATICALLY to 2014 – 62.6%

A year later, note how the graduation rate at Bruce Randolph dropped nearly 30 points from 2013.  The ACT scores were even lower for this class of 2014: 15.2 in 2013 compared to 16.0 in 2012. The 62.6% graduation rate is more credible, in light of the typical graduation rates when a class has such low ACT results.  Doubts persist about the 2013 grad rates.

Abraham Lincoln – grad rate 2013 – 64% RISES 11 POINTS – to 2014 – 75.5%

Puzzling to see the graduation increase rise so much at Abraham Lincoln, even though the low ACT results for those two graduating classes hardly changed at all (15.5 in 2012, 15.6 in 2013).

Three other metro area high schools

Taking a wider look at other metro area high schools, we see three others had graduation rates far exceeding those of other schools with similarly low ACT scores.

Sheridan High, Adams City High, and Alameda International

All had ACT scores in 2013 of 16.4 or less, and yet a year later, each showed graduation rates of close to 80% or better.

These schools deserve a closer look next year when we learn the percentage of graduates who required remedial work once they went on to college in last fall (the TBD column) .  Their districts and the state may find cause to investigate even sooner.  The public—and especially the students and their families—have a right to know if a high school degree from these schools truly stands for something.

Part of a pattern

For these six schools, above, it is not the first time their recent graduation rates look good, even stellar.  Nor is it the first time their ACT scores and remediation rates were much worse than the state average. Here are their remediation rates for 2012 and 2013. Bruce Randolph is an exception here; its 2014 grad rate is more consistent with the ACT scores for that class. In the other cases, is the “good news” a mirage?

School 2012 –

remediation rate

2013 – remediation rate 2014 grad rate


DPS- overall 62.8
Abraham Lincoln 65.1 63.2 75.5
Bruce Randolph 62.5 59.3 62.6
Martin Luther King Early College (DPS)* 63.6 48.9 84.0
Sheridan H.S. (SHERIDAN)** 42.1 47.4 82.7
Adams City High School (ADAMS 14) 69.2 62.3 78.8
Alameda International H.S. (JEFFCO) 61.4 73.2 89.9
STATE AVERAGE       37*** 34.2%*** 77.3

**In 2013, 46 MLK seniors entered post-secondary institutions in Colorado.  Of those, 22 required remedial classes.

**In 2013, 42 Sheridan seniors graduated (CDE). 19 went on to college, and of those, 9 required remedial classes.

***Of course it should be noted that these six high schools serve a high percentage of students from low-income families, and that, as the DHE reports states, in Colorado in 2013, “51% of Free and Reduced Lunch participants were not college ready at the time of enrollment compared to 28% of non-FRL students.”

Case in point: Sheridan – higher graduation rate = “quality of learning”?

This winter we read good news about a graduation rate of over 80% at Sheridan High School in 2014.

According to 2014 graduation data released last week by the state, 80 percent of seniors who attended Sheridan High School, just south of Denver, completed their high school coursework in four years. That’s up from 60 percent the previous year. “These numbers are a testament to what is happening at our high school,” said Michael Clough, Sheridan’s superintendent. “It’s also evidence of the quality of the learningcoming up through our entire system.”  ( (bold mine)

No, Mr. Clough, they do not.  Consider the pattern for Sheridan High students over three years:

2012 ACT – 16.7 2011 Average Cumulative GPA – of Sheridan High grads enrolling in a Colorado college – 2.50
2013 16.4 2012 2.46
2014 15.9 2013 2.38

*Colorado Department of High Education –

If I make a valid point regarding a handful of metro-area schools, I hope the state board realizes, sadly, that this is an issue for all of Colorado.  It is not just that remediation rates for the class of 2013 exceeded 60% infive DPS high schools; it is terribly high in Harrison (Sierra High– 54.3%) and in Pueblo (Central High-57.3%), at Sargent Jr.-Sr. High (73.7%) and at Monte Vista Sr. High (78.6%).   And across the state, again (and let’s recall, this figure does NOT include nearly half of the 2013 graduates who did NOT go on to college), the remediation rate is 34.2%.  The Denver Post’s headline cheered: “Fewer Colorado students take remedial classes to start college” (6/4/2015). My headline would be a simple: 34.2%!!!!!    

ACT results and remediation rates, I hope we agree, do tell us something important about the skills and knowledge of soon-to-graduate, and just-graduated, students.  But let’s admit it: in Colorado, in measuring the “quality of the learning,” our high school graduation rates say little.

Another View, a newsletter by Peter Huidekoper, represents his own opinion and is not intended to represent the

view of any organization he is associated with.  Comments are welcome. 303-757-1225