How the Osceola School District raised the high school graduation rate to 89 percent

Officials explored an important Osceola County accomplishment this week– the highest district high school graduation rate in over a decade.

Late last month, the School District of Osceola County announced that 89.3 percent of seniors graduated high school, putting it more than 3 percent above the state average.

But a lot of work has gone into that statistic over the last eight years, according to District Chief of Staff Scott Fritz.

“It’s not just a high school thing – it’s truly a collective process,” Fritz said at a School Board meeting Tuesday night. “From elementary, middle and high school principals and teachers, and the support students receive from guidance counselors and paraprofessionals.”

Part of the boost comes from simply tracking and recording graduation rate data more frequently and accurately, Fritz said.

Tracking Department of Education numbers throughout the year and not waiting until the end is important, he said, as well as developing impact and credit recovery programs.  

“Though we realized it was better to be proactive and have less students needing credit recovery programs,” Fritz noted.

There’s also been more emphasis on improving instructional practices at all grade levels, including in elementary schools.

Gains for “subgroup” students - such as those with disabilities and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) learners - was another point of pride for school officials.

For example, Osceola County students with disabilities have seen a 22 percent graduation rate increase since the 2013-14 academic year, according to state numbers.

Fritz attributed the jump to decreasing the student-teacher ratio in elementary schools for those classes, offering continuum of care services at all grade levels and utilizing small-group teaching methods.

The district has also explored other “meaningful” assessment tools, like the SAT, that can satisfy state requirements for students who may struggle to pass Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) - a suite of yearly reading, writing and math tests designed to measure student performance.

“Perhaps they’ve experienced unsuccessful attempts (with the FSA),” Fritz said. “And during that time, they’ve gotten beaten down.”

According to the presentation, 42 percent of at-risk seniors who were didn’t  meet FSA requirements were able to meet state standards by passing the SAT.

The dropout rate in Osceola County continues to fall, as well as the number of students earning certificates of completion – a lesser achievement than a standard diploma awarded to seniors who fail to pass state assessments or obtain a grade point average higher than 2.0.  

District charter schools also saw graduation rate increases, though the numbers were significantly lower than in regular public schools (64 percent versus 91 percent respectively).

“They (the charters) aren’t exactly where we want them yet, but they’re showing improvement over the last three years,” Fritz said.

Making sure students have a plan after high school is also important, officials noted, which is why the district has amped up its “Got College?” initiative.

The push includes components such as  Valencia Community College transition coaches and increasing free field trips to area colleges and technical schools.