Schools finally get a good report card

Published 10:19 pm Friday, October 9, 2009

Considering what sometimes seems to be a drumbeat of bad news involving the academic standing of Suffolk Public Schools, Thursday’s news about dropouts and graduates was a welcome new tune for school officials and others involved with the system.

Turning around a couple of terrible trends, the system reported preliminary figures that show dropout rates to have fallen and on-time graduation rates to have risen during the past year.

The two figures represent two pieces of the puzzle for school administrators trying to put policies in place that encourage a high level of achievement among their students. Suffolk’s on-time graduation rate is a measure of the percentage of ninth-graders who complete their high school work and get a diploma within four years. The dropout rate measures the percentage of ninth-graders who choose to leave school without ever earning some kind of high school diploma.

The fact that the city’s on-time graduation rate rose from 72 percent to nearly 78 percent could be a promising indicator of the hard work teachers, administrators and central office personnel are doing to overcome the stigma with which the school system has lived for so long.

Even more important, though is the fact that preliminary figures show the dropout rate as improving from last year’s startling 19 percent to a more moderate 12.6 percent this year. On a percentage basis, that means one-third fewer students dropped out this year than last year. That’s not just good news; it’s news to get excited about. Surely, it would be preferable if the city could get that rate around 5 percent, but improving by a third in a year is a big step in the right direction.

All three of the city’s high schools are to be commended for the work they’ve done in turning around the numbers. Lakeland High School, in particular, should be congratulated for cutting its dropout rate nearly in half and improving its on-time graduation rate by 10 percentage points.

School critics still can find plenty of things to worry about. But it’s good to see the school system finally making progress, and the honest critics will stop complaining long enough for at least a brief tip of the hat.