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PRESS RELEASE

December 15, 2006

Cathy Schroeder
(850) 245-0413

Commissioner Winn Announces Florida High School Graduation Rate

TALLAHASSEE — Education Commissioner John L. Winn today announced Florida's graduation rate was 71 percent in 2005-2006, a decrease compared to last year's rate of 71.9 percent. In 1998-1999, the graduation rate was 60.2 percent and rates have continued to increase steadily since that time until this year. Even with the slight decline, more students than ever — 136,070 — graduated on time in 2005-2006, an increase of 4,563 students. The State Board of Education and Florida Legislature recognize that high school students need more rigor and relevance in school to prepare them for the challenges of postsecondary education, the workplace and graduation. Governor Jeb Bush's A++ Plan for Education, approved this year, includes critical middle and high school reform measures to ensure students succeed. In addition, the Department of Education is convening a Dropout Prevention Task Force to develop further strategies to help Florida's struggling students stay committed to graduation.

"We cannot wait to challenge our students to achieve their full potential in high school and beyond," said Commissioner Winn. "We must aggressively work to engage our students today, for there may not be another opportunity to show them what they are capable of accomplishing."

A third of the state's school districts had an increase in the graduation rate. Four districts had significant increases or decreases with a more than nine percent change. Jackson County had the largest increase in the number of students graduating on time with a 9.1 percent increase, while counties with the greatest declines were Franklin County (-19.3 percent), Jefferson County (-14.6 percent) and Holmes County (-9.3 percent).

The A++ Plan for Education will increase the rigor and relevance of high school ensuring students stay engaged until graduation. Beginning next school year, ninth grade students entering high school will be required to earn 16 core academic credits and eight elective credits in order to graduate with a high school diploma. Core requirements consist of four credits of English and mathematics; three credits of social studies and science; one credit of fine arts; and one credit in physical education and health. To better involve students in planning and making decisions for their future, they will now select an area of interest for four of their eight elective credits as part of their personalized education and career plan. Students will choose from 440 approved major areas of interest and there will be flexibility so students can change their areas of emphasis if they wish. Major areas are available for students in high schools throughout Florida, including students with disabilities working toward a special diploma, students enrolled in career academies or magnet programs, and students in charter schools.

"We want students to have an opportunity to pursue an area of passion so they can begin to discern how best to develop their strengths and abilities while pursuing a topic where their interests lay," said K-12 Public Schools Chancellor Cheri Pierson Yecke, Ph.D.

The graduation rate for African-American students was 56.9 percent, a slight decline of .2 percent. Florida's Hispanic students had a graduation rate of 63.7 percent compared to 64.5 percent last year. During 2005-2006, the graduation rate for American Indian students increased to 75.7 percent compared to 73.3 percent last year. Florida's Asian students also saw an increase in their graduation rate to 83.2 percent compared to 82.2 percent last year.

2005-2006 Dropout Rate

Florida's dropout rate is the percentage of high school students in grades nine to 12 from the year's total enrollment who are reported as dropouts by Florida's school districts. Florida's dropout rate has ranged from a high of 5.4 percent in 1998-1999 to a low of 2.9 percent in 2003-2004. This year, Florida's dropout rate was 3.5 percent, a less than one percent increase (5,535 students) compared to last year's rate of 3 percent. A third of the state's school districts had a decline in the number of dropouts.

"We have not been able to pinpoint the exact cause of this year's rates," said Commissioner Winn. "I am appointing a task force to study this issue and report to the State Board of Education and Florida Legislature. The task force members are a diverse group of people with broad experience in secondary education and working with at-risk youth in schools and communities."

The Dropout Prevention Task Force members are from across the state and represent faith-based, civic, juvenile justice, education and business organizations. The chair is Reverend Ken Scrubbs of Youth Outreach Community in Leesburg. The task force will convene its first meeting in January and meet each month until March when they will present recommendations to the Florida Legislature.

The dropout rate for African-American students was 4.7 percent compared to 3.9 percent last year. The dropout rate for Hispanic students was 4.3 percent compared to 3.6 percent last year. All other ethnicities except for Asian students also saw an increase in dropout rates. The difference between white and minority dropout rates narrowed further in 2004-2005, reflecting an ongoing trend since 1998-1999.

The Florida Department of Education bases its graduation rate on data that follows every student from ninth grade to graduation, yielding a more precise calculation. Florida stands alone nationally in its practice of documenting individual student records to determine a true, four-year graduation rate. A 2005 report released by the National Governors Association cited Florida as a national leader and model for calculating graduation rates.

To learn more about the A++ Plan for Education visit www.fldoe.org/APlusPlus/.