Does Octorara Make The Grade? Part 2 : Graduation Rates

graduationAs had been mentioned in previous posts, at the end of the February 18 School Board meeting, Mr. Ganow asked Dr. Newcome if he could furnish a report for next month’s meeting on the graduation rate for the Octorara District and salaries comparing Chester and Lancaster Counties.

We have talked about salaries. We had several articles about test scores, the district’s warning for not making Adequate Yearly Progress, and other performance indicators. Let’s now talk about graduation rates.

These graduation rates are from the Pennsylvanian Department of Education (last updated 2010-11) and publicly available on their website.

Grad Rate
Conestoga SHS (Tredyffrin) 99.40%
Unionville HS 98.89%
Great Valley HS 98.27%
Owen J Roberts HS 97.28%
Downingtown HS East 96.50%
Phoenixville Area HS 95.22%
West Chester Bayard Rustin HS 95.15%
Downingtown HS West 95.00%
West Chester East 94.96%
Avon Grove HS 94.19%
West Chester Henderson HS 94.10%
Kennett HS 91.32%
Coatesville Area SHS 88.99%
Oxford Area HS 88.41%
Octorara Area JSHS 73.23%

Since at least 1999-00, using a comparison to Oxford SD, Octorara has been paying an ever growing premium to teachers between $4,928 (1999-00) and $11,679 (2011-12). An additional labor cost of roughly $21,266,022, and what do we have to show for it? We have poor test scores, the school district in warning for not making Adequate Yearly Progress, inferior College readiness, only 57% pass rate with our Advance Placement classes, and 1 in every 4 do not graduate. This is our Return On Investment!!

As we brake that graduation rate down by subgroups, the news becomes even more disturbing. If you are economically disadvantaged, are a special needs child or are African-American, your chances of graduating are seriously diminished.  Pennsylvanian Department of Education data shows 1 out of every 2 African-American students will not graduate. If you are economically disadvantaged or special needs, not even 2 in 3 will graduate.

Grad Rates by Demographics

Male Grad Rate: 71.14%
Female Grade Rate: 74.42%
White Grade Rate: 75.42%
Hispanic Grad Rate: 73.33%
Black Grad Rate: 47.06%
Asian Grad Rate: —
Economically Disadvantaged: 62.26%
Sp Ed Grad Rate: 59.18%

What is the message here? When the school board tells us our high taxes, and the high labor costs they pay, are providing a quality education… a quality education for who?

Did you read the original “Does Octorara Make The Grade” article?


30 thoughts on “Does Octorara Make The Grade? Part 2 : Graduation Rates

  1. We live in the Octorara School District but our children attend the Avon Grove Charter School -simply for the reason that we think that school is a better fit / education system for our particular family. You’re postings have certainly started some heated conversations between residents 🙂 Those who staunchly defend the district and it’s teachers are pointing fingers at their fellow parents – claiming that the lack of parental involvement is the key factor in the district’s less then stellar test scores. Although, since every parent speaking out on this subject is making the claim that they are “involved” parents – then it would seem that this isn’t really a factor at all. The question we have raised to those who are going down the “lack of parental involvement” path is – how would raising our taxes improve the parents? Obviously – if higher taxes equaled a better education – you would see Octorara at the top of the list instead of the bottom. However, people seem to ignore the numbers and argue with just opinion. I am at a loss how somebody can say “The test scores are awful, but the schools are great” – it just seems like an oxymoron. Although I’m sure he would land on the side of being “politically correct” – has Dr. Newcome ever touched on this subject? And if the lack of parental involvement is truly the biggest factor here – how do you make the parents get more involved? Looking at the test scores you’ve posted it almost appears as if kids are being advanced to the next grade simply to get them out the door. Will the parents wake up if you start failing their kids? Are the Octorara Schools really failing the students by passing them? I’d be interested to hear the teacher’s and Dr. Newcome’s views on this…

    • …and I’m not done posting data.

      Everything with the school district is about shifting blame, and blaming the parents is a typical go to excuse for poor student performance. Unfortunately, Octorara’s numbers seems to show there is a greater problem. Pequea Valley has the same “kind of people” as Octorara, and their graduation rate is 92.59% overall, and greater graduation rates with special education (88.24%) and economically disadvantaged (73.08%). Do people really want to argue that our school district is simply filled with uncaring, neglectful parents?

    • My only thought is that if your work performance is terrible you should be fired. Teachers, and board members are out of touch with not just the community, but they are out of touch with reality. Why would they try to blame parents for the teachers lack of performance? I think we need to get together and file a civil suite against the school board like Bob Hume suggested because this problem is going into a circular argument with no solution for the problem. Another problem we face is the false propaganda from the town news blog, which is defending the teachers and school board members, and placing blame on the tax payers. Maybe I should call a lawyer tomorrow and see what we can find out along with a good media outlet. This problem has to stop now! The town is being destroyed by this unintelligent behavior.

  2. A 47% graduation rate for black students is absolutely ridiculous. I can’t believe I have never heard that statistic before.

    The 62% graduation rate for low income students is haunting. Never thought I’d have my day ruined by two statistics, but this definitely accomplished it.

  3. Why are we blaming the School District for kids not graduating, exactly? Statistically speaking, low socioeconomic status and ethnicity have always placed these particular students at risk across the board. Octarara is no different in that regard.

    Of course the most vocal parents are the involved parents. Those parents that could care less about their children’s education are not going to be speaking up because you know…*they don’t care*. Or worse, they have no time to care because they are working to keep a roof over said child’s head.

    The reality of it is, our educators can only do so much. It is up to every parent to be aware of what’s going on in the classroom, looking over homework, and making sure their kids get the help they need should they be struggling. Further, parents need to raise their children and enforce good study habits. That is not an educator’s job…that is a parent’s job.

    While it would seem (based on what I’ve read here) that there seems to be no good reason for a tax hike, I would disagree that the argument presented here by Mr. Alexander is a good one to prove his point.

    The larger issue with low graduating seniors is a lack of support from the home environment. Parent’s working two jobs to make ends meet certainly aren’t home to make sure their children are home and the homework and studying is done. Gangs, drugs, and so on also permeate the young black man’s environment. Poor parents also have a higher incidence of drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, etc. Factor in that the vast majority of parents in that environment are poor, single, black, and women…and it is a societal recipe for disaster. That is the reality…not the teachers not doing their job….although it is convenient to blame them.

    • Karrie,

      It is true that socio-economics plays a part. However, we can go school by school, across Chester County, and we see that Octorara has a severe problem above and beyond… greater than the others in this regard. I simply can’t accept the argument that we are a community of scoundrels, neglecting our children. The overall graduation rate isn’t just the lowest, it is significantly lower than the next lowest school. As I understand it, there has also been at least two settlements regarding lawsuits on behalf of special education students, one in 2010 and another in 2012… both kept private.

      • I found the problem! A post from Karrie states “The larger issue with low graduating seniors is a lack of support from the home environment. Parent’s working two jobs to make ends meet certainly aren’t home to make sure their children are home and the homework and studying is done.” I think this phrase explains the problem because if the taxes were lower and the parents did not have to work 2 jobs, they would have time to help the kids with homework. I also think the idea that parents need to teach their kids is wrong all together. I have 2 kids and no degree in teaching so that idea is thrown out the window, but I will however take a salary of $60,000 and teach my kids at home if you think it is fair. My degree is in criminal justice, but I do have communications skills, which helps when talking to teens I guess.

  4. I want to know how a parent that works 2+ jobs to keep a roof over their child’s head due to high taxes is supposed to be at home doing the work of a teacher as well? I am one of those parents. To say they don’t care is an assumption on your part and an unfair one at that. I wouldn’t doubt that Octorara had lawsuits against their special education section. I went to school there and had an IEP and my mom had to fight tooth and nail to get me the help and support I needed. These numbers are sickening and have dropped since I graduated in 2001.

  5. Christen – I feel for your situation. Making ends meet anymore is extremely stressful. I am not judging the parents in the district on whether they “care” or not – my point was that in the conversations we have had with parents whose children attend the schools – or just reading the discussions all over facebook right now – the lack of parental involvement is what a lot of Octorara parents feel is the biggest issue in this mess. I can’t speak on this with any personal experience as our kids aren’t enrolled at Octorara. However, I think that making sure your child is showing up for school during the day and doing their assignments after school is a parents responsibility – not a teachers.

  6. I’m going by statistical data, not by individual case scenarios. What I have said here is fact, a simple Google Search will tell a person the same thing I’ve stated, here. The exceptions to the rule only prove the rule.

    I also think though, that we need to look at the Socioeconomic statistical data within the Octorara School District in order to discern where the problem *really* lies. We’ve already seen why the teachers make more money here than anywhere else, the question is *why*. Perhaps they are working under more difficult conditions in a difficult school district? That would be a reason to pay teachers in that District more….to get them to come teach there. As I said, we’re guessing at this point because we don’t have enough information other than the obvious slanting of facts to prove one point of view.

    I am not advocating parents teaching their children. What I do advocate is parents reinforcing what they are taught in school, and making sure to communicate when something needs to be retaught or even introduced to the student because it wasn’t covered in the classroom. Documentation, communication, etc. It can’t be proven that there is a problem unless there is documentation to back it up. If there is, I’d certainly like to see it.

    A list of schools across Chester County and their Graduation rates isn’t proof of anything to me, other than the fact that some of these kids may live in more priviledged areas and have more parental involvement and funding than other schools do.

    • My taxes on a small lot less than a half acre are $4000. a year, and I would like for you to pay it for me if my home gets foreclosed on.

  7. “We’ve already seen why the teachers make more money here than anywhere else, the question is *why*.” – Okay, that sentence left me confused. Are you asking why our tax rates are so high? The School Board would have the answer to that question – or at least I hope they would. Again – people cannot claim / defend that this is a great school district out of one side of their mouth then justify over paying it’s teachers by saying it’s a difficult school district to work in out the other side. Low cost of living, low crime rate, new buildings, safe campus and over funded schools – how is this a difficult school district? Looking at the statistical data – we’re paying close to the same salaries as the Philadelphia and Upper Darby School Districts – where would you rather work if you were a teacher? Can’t remember the last time I heard about a hammer wielding student attacking a teacher in this district…

    Our taxes are too high, our teachers are over paid, and our test scores and graduation rates are embarrassing. You can’t dispute the numbers. When somebody is giving you statistics – which anybody can access on the State’s website – it’s a little insulting to say that they are slanting the facts towards one point of view. Tim’s not pulling these statistics out of thin air – he’s doing all the homework and putting it up there for the rest of us to see. He’s made it easy for us to follow what it going on. Has common sense truly gone out the window when people continue to ignore these numbers and argue semantics? I’m tired of our taxes going up, period. And it’s like adding insult to injury when they go up to support a school district that continues to live beyond it’s means.

    Avon Grove Charter School receives 66% percent of the funding that Octorara does. Octorara gets to pocket the rest and the only obligation they have to our children is to provide busing. They provide one bus to cover the entire Octorara District and go down to the Charter School’s Early Learning Center..and if our child actually rode that bus it would be a 2hr ride each way. She’s 6yrs old. How do you justify that kind of a commute for a first grader? If our older boys (3rd and 5th grade) rode the upper school’s bus in the morning – they would get picked up at 6:00 am and arrive at school at 7:35..It’s not in Octorara’s budget to provide more buses – at least that’s their argument and has been since our oldest started at AGCS 5yrs ago – so aside from busing, where is the other 44% going? We’ve never gotten an answer to that question. Yes, this is a personal sore point for us – So back to my point: Our school doesn’t have all the bells and whistles and new buildings that Octorara does. Our average teacher’s salary in considerably less too. But we have better test scores and graduation rates. When you want to volunteer in the classroom or for a field trip – you better hope your name is pulled in the lottery because parental involvement almost borders on parental over-involvement. If the Charter Schools can do better with less – why is Octorara doing so much worse with so much more?

    Okay, take away the comparison of other schools for one still doesn’t erase the fact that 30% of our kids aren’t graduating. So if 30% of our students not finishing high school isn’t proof of a School District in trouble – what number will it take? Do you think that that 30% are working? Are they moving out of the area? Are they draining or benefiting the local economy – or any economy for that matter? Or are they now being supported by our tax dollars in other ways? No diploma = no chance of a job. Add in the lack motivation (motivated people graduate from high school) and I’m guessing that they end up on the receiving end of Public Entitlements. And no, I’m not being judgmental here –

    While I’m not that familiar with this school district’s resources – I’m guessing that like ours, there are multiple programs for struggling students and there are teachers who are willing to go above and beyond for those kids (and parents) who need extra help. But the student has to want it – you can’t help somebody who doesn’t acknowledge that they need it.

    So now we’re back to comparing schools – if poverty is a key factor in poor performance / not graduating then why are the graduation rates for every other school district’s “economically disadvantaged” students burying not only our districts economically disadvantaged graduation rate, but also our over all graduation rate? the rates aren’t even close. Kinda blows a small hole in the poverty = lack of parental involvement = poor scores = poor graduation rate being a key factor theory.. When I was growing up (and yes, I’m throwing in the age card in here even though I’m not that old) – just as in the generations before mine – poverty wasn’t an excuse to do poorly in school – it was a reason to work harder. I’m hopeful that the scores I saw posted are still reflecting this..

    So what is the crux of the problem (s)- everybody seems to have an excuse or they push the responsibility off onto the next parent / teacher / administrator… maybe everybody should take a look in the mirror and own up to their part of this mess. That includes the taxpayers who have been burying their heads in the sand – and I count myself in that group.

    • You make a good point about Octorara verses Philadelphia schools and it seems that the vast majority of schools with lower rates are Philadelphia schools. It also includes schools from Pittsburgh, Reading, Norristown, and mostly urban. Cyber schools seem to not do well either.

      Octorara’s economically disadvantaged was 53 out of 269 (19.7%), within the report from the Department of Education.

      Coatesville’s economically disadvantaged was 182 out of 545 (33.4%), and their grad rate for economically disadvantaged is 86.26%.

      Not only do we have a smaller group of economically disadvantaged, they represent a smaller percentage of the student body compared to a school like Coatesville.

      I think some people may be confusing our area’s large working class with economically disadvantaged.

  8. The school board made the mistake of assuming that the area would grow because of the housing boom. If you look at how hard it is to build in the surrounding areas you would say that Dr. Newcome didn’t do his homework! Builders have projects all over the place, but building new homes is under strict limitations. Parkesburg is full of empty homes because the taxes are too high and the school district is showing failed results for our children’s education.

    It is not the parents fault as some people think. Teachers get PAID to teach these kids, and that means they are not doing a good enough job at the school, which causes children to lose interest. What if the parents didn’t make it all the way through school and don’t have teaching skills? Is it their fault now because they lack education? Gimme a break!

    The teachers and school board members are absolutely the problem here and they know it. Their state funding is going to get cut because they are showing poor results, and in my opinion there are more people trying to escape the area in secrecy because they see the school districts problem and believe it won’t get fixed. My hat is off to a couple members though like Bob Hume and Leon Lapp because they see the problem with the over spending, but we need more than 2 members having a voice to fix the problem.

    Lisa Bowman, and Brian Norris are trying to say we need to spend now before it is too late to spend later and catch up with technology, well I’m sorry to hurt your feeling but technology has made a lot of kids lazy, and they show lack of interest in their studies. The internet is full of information, and if the kids need answers they just type in the question, and the answers are there. When I went to school we had to read a book, and find key factors in each chapter, then we had a test to see who read the book and who didn’t. Ever here of “cliffs notes” I used them.

    This is the year of change! If you want to pay high taxes with poor results that is your decision, but remember one thing: High taxes drive people away, and a town full of empty house only means more taxes for you to make up for the rest who packed up and left.

  9. Tim,

    I looked into the methodology behind these numbers, and I am a little disappointed with how you portray them in this article.

    These numbers represent the 4 year cohort graduation rate. That is, the numbers of students that graduate in exactly 4 years.

    In this survey, 8 of 17 african american students graduated within 4 years. 9 of these other students were held back, yet still graduated. Octorara has a very low drop out rate.

    If you make complaints using these numbers, you give the school district an incentive to push kids along without being ready.

    Please revise the phrasing in your article to accurately portray the data that you reference. I am 100% behind your movement, and you hurt our effort by making mistakes like this.

    • Please read the FAQ info (

      “The four year cohort rate is calculated by dividing the number of students graduating in 4 years by the number of students entering 9th grade 4 years earlier, plus the number of transfer into the graduating class, minus the number of transfers out of the graduating class.

      The cohort rate can also be calculated on a five- or six-year basis to account for students who take longer to graduate but can still successfully earn a regular diploma.”

      The PA Department of Ed. also wrote the 4 Year Cohort Graduation calculation was put in effect because the old method was overstating graduation rates.

      • For whatever reason, Octorara chose not to calculate the 5-6 year graduation rate. The numbers that you cited are the 4 year graduation rate. If a student is held back for 1 year, these numbers say that they “did not graduate”, even if they graduated the following year.

        If you check dropout rates here:
        you see that there is nearly an extraordinarily low dropout rate.

        Please Tim, see reason, adjust the article. The phrase, “within 4 years”, should appear at least numerous times.

      • With all do respect,

        I have no documentation that any student eventually graduated, and it does not invalidate the numbers. The old method did remove students from calculations if they were still in school, but it was changed for the very reason that it is inaccurate.

        I did pull the dropout rate, and their dropout rate for 2010-11 is .79%. It seems low compared to the Chester County average of 1.58%. Unfortunately, the two cyber charter schools have very high dropout rates that skew the averages. When we remove all charter schools, and compare only school districts, the average is 0.62%… making the dropout rate high.

        Tredyffrin-Easttown SD : 0.00%
        Unionville-Chadds Ford SD : 0.00%
        Owen J Roberts SD : 0.09%
        Great Valley SD : 0.11%
        Downingtown Area SD : 0.40%
        West Chester Area SD : 0.61%
        Avon Grove SD : 0.73%
        Octorara Area SD : 0.79%
        Kennett Consolidated SD : 0.94%
        Phoenixville Area SD : 1.16%
        Coatesville Area SD : 1.24%
        Oxford Area SD : 1.38%

        Point of note, dropouts also do affect graduation rates. Even with schools that have higher dropout rates than Octorara, they do a better job getting kids to graduate.

        The old method benefited schools to keep unproductive students in order to get a higher grad rate.

      • There is no respect in intellectual dishonesty. Octorara having a .78% dropout rate vs a 25% dropout rate is a world of difference.

        People are actually listening to you and are following these posts. I, for one, support your push.

        Please see my frustration, then, when you start making absolutely outlandish claims about the school (i.e. Data show that 1 in 2 African American student will not graduate).

        We are not in inner city Baltimore here. We have high taxes for many of the great reasons you have meticulously detailed in previous posts.

      • No, I don’t see your frustration. This article is not about dropout rates. It is about graduation rates. I can see why the school district liked the old way of calculating. All they had to do was keep a kid in school to keep them out of graduation calculations.

        The dropout rate of .78% is for the entire K-12. I really don’t know many 1st graders dropping out. The High School is 1.14% with no demographics other than male or female given. Overall, it does not improve any argument in favor of the school. It is not a “low” dropout rate compared to other Chester County School Districts.

        If you want to compare state averages, then I will compare state averages… and will argue wages need to be lowered compared to state averages.

        If you want me to consider not only Chester County schools, but also Lancaster County schools, I’m happy to do that too… but then will argue adjustments based on those.

        Frankly, I don’t see how your dropout rate argument means anything when schools with higher dropout rates are still graduating students at a much higher rate. Seems like a false argument created just to bicker.

        No matter how it is sliced, we are paying a premium.

    • Ken thanks for your input, and your support! This page is for factual information to inform the public on why we are against the tax increase. The numbers are solid, and show disappointment in all areas. The circular arguments get us nowhere, and solutions are needed immediately to stop the increase any further. The problem is here, and not anywhere else, so comparing apples to apples is irrelevant to this matter. We are paying a premium for terrible teachers, and a school board that wants to lie to us and pretend we have a great school.

      I spoke with a former student this morning and he said the statue was a waste of money, the existing school has mold issues that were ignored, and the students were pushed through the school without basic knowledge. Why did the district build a new building? The people are sick of the taxes going up every year while the school keeps a hoard of money in a savings account. This sounds like extortion to me, and yes I will blame those who are at fault. They need to come clean and admit they messed up!

      • The student council was supposed to have raised money for the statue but didn’t raise all of it, so somebody had to pay for it?

  10. I do have to agree that there is a level of intellectual honesty that must be addressed, here. Before any of us can really start throwing around statistics (and that includes myself). We need to use the statistics mathematically, not rhetorically…as has been done here, and on both sides of the argument. There are a number of different factors that come into play here, and while we’ve got some stats….there needs to be a comprehensive and consistent review of that data, otherwise all meaning ful dialogue breaks down, and there is an absolutist “either…or” dialogue going that’s not going to provide solutions for anyone, let alone our children.

    • Karrie,

      If you go to the link I provided for this data, there is a FAQ download. What pbtodayfan is arguing for is the old way of calculating graduation rates, which the state has determined to be inaccurate. The old version of calculating graduation rates allowed schools not to count kids if they kept them on the rolls, and favored poor performing schools, like Ocotrara, giving a false sense of performance. Also mentioned in the FAQ, the rates above are used in the state determining Adequate Yearly Progress. These are the official numbers. Pbtodayfan’s argument does not have merit.

  11. I read your last blog post, and I thank you for the numbers. Now the question is: What level of education do these graduating seniors in disadvantaged districts (like Coatesville) *really* have? Are they literate? Do they know their multiplication tables?

    The data may be skewed based on teachers pushing kids through who are not really able to do the work. In order to make their numbers look good. I’m not trying to be a pain, but I want an accurate picture of what’s going on here. In order to have that, I need the *whole* picture…and graduation rates vs. students being able to do graduating Senior work are (unfortunately) two different things.

    How are these kids testing out in each District? In other words…could the graduation rates be higher in some areas, but the education level really be much lower than Octarara? We have to look at the quality of education as well as the numbers. How do the kids test out in Octarara as compared to other areas? If it’s lower…then I think we can say we have a significant problem with the education being given to these kids…and I would want to know *why* these teachers are being paid at a significantly higher rate if these kids aren’t testing out at grade level if other areas with more problems (gangs, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, etc) are.

    Either way – I still haven’t really seen anything that would justify a tax hike….but I’m working with the arguments presented.

    • Karrie,

      That was the focus of the original Does Octorara Make The Grade? post. The PSSA tests have Ocrotara with the lowest number scores, but Coatesville has the highest percentage testing a “Below Basic.” With SAT scores, Octorara and Coatesville are the two worst performing schools, with Octorara doing slightly better. It is a battle for the bottom.

      As far as if the tax hike is necessary, without some changes, it is. The district’s presentation is on their website. The only way to avoid a tax hike is to either balance the budget using money from school’s “savings account” or cut something. Balancing using the “savings account” is only temporary, and sets us up for a greater tax increase next year. The question becomes, do we cut programs for the kids or do we start with the adults

      Salaries and benefits represent over $27.6 Million of the proposed $47.8 Million budget. High labor cost is the number one reason for high per-student cost, and our high taxes. It is also $1.1 Million of the $1.2 Million increase to the proposed budget.

      • Tim you should run for a position on the school board since they need a couple people this next election. I would vote for you!

  12. Sorry, can’t believe I missed that first post. I only started reading a couple of days ago. I’ll look back over it. I’ve looked over the website, as well….and I can’t seem to find anything other than a case of overspending going on with Octarara. I could see how and why it would be necessary if the students were performing at a high level or something…but since that isn’t the case…we just have a problem with people not being fiscally responsible.

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