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Waco ISD Sees Marked Improvement in Graduation Rate and End of Course Exams

While schools across the nation have seen their dropout rates climb since COVID-19 hit in 2020, Waco ISD decreased its dropout rate in the 2021-2022 school year through a myriad of methods to keep students in school.

“Waco ISD had 100 fewer students drop out of school last year than the year before. We are not just getting them in school,” said Denise Bell, Waco ISD Director of Accountability Systems and Data Analysis.  “They are staying in school and graduating.”

According to lagging data from the Texas Education Agency, Waco ISD’s dropout rate was 4.7 percent in the 2020-2021 school year, attributed to parents not enrolling their students after COVID. 

“For students who did not return, if parents did not notify the district that they were moving or if another district did not request the students’ records, we were required to list them as dropouts because we did not know where they were,” Bell said. “But, our parent community liaisons work to track down students who do not return to school and they get them re-enrolled. They are the community connection to ensure these students are in school.”

Waco ISD’s dropout rate fell to 3.1 percent, a 1.6 percent decrease, in the 2021-2022 school year as compared to the state average of 2.2 percent. Bell highlighted three specific student population groups—

special education, homeless, and emergent bilingual, through which the district saw noticeable decreases in the dropout rate.

The dropout rate for high school students receiving special education services decreased by 2.6 percent with zero middle school students receiving special education services dropping out, resulting in a 5.4 percentage decrease in the dropout rate in grades six through eight.

“This is especially important because if they are dropping out in seventh or eighth grade even before they get to high school, they are not going to graduate if we do not get them back in school,” Bell said.

Waco ISD achieved a decrease of 3.5 percent in dropout rates for homeless students, and emergent bilingual students staying in school at a higher rate of 0.1 percent.

A lower dropout rate resulted in Waco ISD increasing its graduation rate in the spring of 2022 to 85 percent, equivalent to the national average, and a seven percent gain in the number of graduates as compared to four years ago with a graduation rate of 77 percent.  

Waco ISD’s end of course exam scores also increased resulting in more students graduating. At both University High School and Waco High School, 80 percent of students achieved academic growth in Algebra on their EOC exams and 70 percent of students improved on the English/Language Arts/Reading EOC exam according to the TEA. The district saw a seven percent increase in its high school graduates who are college/career/military ready.

“Had TEA not made retroactive changes to the accountability system, Waco ISD high schools collectively would have earned a ‘B’ rating in CCMR,” Superintendent Dr. Susan Kincannon said.     “Waco ISD is really proud of the progress by its students in both high schools. The system of interventions we are using is achieving the academic growth in students that we had hoped for.”

Kincannon credits the district’s decrease in the dropout rate, increase in graduation rate, and student academic growth to a system of intervention for students at all grade levels and actively monitoring them on a student-by-student basis to provide support.

“We have developed curriculum scope and sequence documents in collaboration with teachers to provide equitable academic instruction for all students and ensure that we are aligned to state standards,” Kincannon said. “We have more than 60 interventionists who work with struggling students in small group settings to ensure they are successful.”

Waco ISD also instituted Opportunity Culture, training teachers to assist peers in focusing on instructional improvements and its Reading Recovery Program where teachers are specifically training other teachers to ensure students have a strong foundation in reading at the early elementary level.

Individual STAAR scores are expected to be released next week to both schools and parents. Kincannon expects continued improvement in results.