Like all numbers and stats, it's frought with being oversimplified and lacking context. The figure applies to the percentage of Ontario students who started Grade 9 and completed their Ontario Secondary School Diploma within five years. This despite the high-school curriculum being a four-year program -- the ministry justifies its use of the five-year figure because it's a more complete figure.
Given approximately 30% of students take a fifth year of high school, until that figure changes there will always be a gap between four-year completion rates and five-year completion rates.
Of course, critics of the government, or the ministry, or boards, or 'schools today' will gripe that use of the five-year figure is hiding the failure of a four-year program. Get over it-- the curriculum changed a while ago and a majority of students who finish high school do it in four years. Others will gripe these rates and the accompanying statements of success are only because the curriculum has been dumbed down to ensure more students pass-- not to mention that old 'no-fail policy' chestnut that ... well ... is hard to prove as reality at pretty much every high school I've interacted with in this job.
So here's what I think is going well-- we've moved away from this insistence that everyone needs a university degree to be successful (and given my current post I'm in no way speaking against the value of a university degree). The programs that were in place until the 1970s and 1980s that allowed for more technical and apprentice education have returned as specialist high-skills majors. For those who know they're not headed to college or university, there appear to be more programs that will help them get the skills to be job-ready and obtain their OSSD.
I also applaud the introduction of student-success teachers. Every Ontario high school has one, focused on the Grade 9 and 10 students. Over and over the presence of a caring adult, one that a student makes a connection with and can lean on if need be, is proven to make a difference in education. Student-success teachers can fill that role.
One thing that did pop out of the fray in the coverage this week was one article out of the Sault Star on the provincial rates and the lack of local figures. School board officials in that area fluffed off questions about what local grad rates are saying it's too difficult to track them at a local level.
"Provincially, they can do it through what are called Ontario Education Numbers, and they've got those stats in a database," said John Stadnyk, director of education for the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board. "Individually, in our boards, because kids move from board to board and we lose kids along the way, we can't track them, so it's hard for us to measure the graduates, compared to the number of Grade 9s."That, to a certain degree, is bumpf. I say this because I've seen a board-level report on graduation rates. When a student transfers schools, the receiving school doesn't just create the record out of thin air. That's why OENs were created, in part. The record is usually transferred with the student. Plus, students don't magically appear out of thin air. Those Grade 12 students came from somewhere, and with some effort it's not impossible to see where they came from. Similarly, when someone drops out, it's not impossible to monitor whether or not they re-engage with a high school at a later time.
As a supporter of open data initiatives, I think this is important information that should be available at a school level. It's doesn't require re-inventing the wheel or creating some new system to track it either. The OEN allows for it, boards just need to start using it the same way the province has to compile these latest rates.