Fort Worth students graduating at a greater rate than peers in several urban Texas school districts

FORT WORTH -- The four-year graduation rate in Fort Worth schools is better than that of several other large Texas districts, including Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, but about six percentage points below the state average.

That's according to data about on-time graduations for the class of 2011 released in recent weeks by the Fort Worth school district and the Texas Education Agency. Fort Worth school officials also completed a report that compared Fort Worth's performance with four Texas urban school districts with similar demographics.

Among the Fort Worth findings:

The overall graduation rate of 79.7 percent fell short of the state average of 85.9 percent. The graduation rate for Hispanics was 80.2 percent, just 1.6 percent below the state average, but better than the average in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

Anglo students in Fort Worth schools had a graduation rate of 86.5 percent. That was lower than the state average of 92 percent, but higher than Dallas and San Antonio.

Among African-Americans, Fort Worth's rate came in at 74.4 percent. That is several points below the state average of 80.9 percent, but better than their peers in Austin and San Antonio.

Fort Worth administrators say they are pleased with the results for Hispanic students, the district's largest population.

"That's really exciting. We know that they are our largest student population. We're right within two points of where the state is so we're really in the game there. Obviously, our African-American rate is of concern to us because it is below the all-students level, but we can see that's a challenge across the state," said Michael Sorum, deputy superintendent for leadership, learning, and student support.

Sorum said the school district is working on several fronts to help students stay on grade level and graduate on time.

For instance, the district has an "aggressive effort" to improve student reading levels starting in elementary school to ensure students are on level by third grade, Sorum said.

Elementary and middle schools host college information nights to inspire students to start thinking early about their plans after graduation. And the district is opening high school campuses and programs that offer specialized areas of study, including culinary arts, fire science and graphic design.

The march toward graduation happens one lesson at a time, making sure students master the course material to pass the class, earn credits and pass state standardized exams, said Gayla Dawson, Southwest High School principal.

"In a nutshell, you've got to keep your eye on student progression from year to year so that at the senior year you're not looking at catching up," Dawson said. "If they do fall behind, you have to have interventions in place so that they can recover. If a student has problems with math, maybe they have some gaps in their learning. You have to figure out where the problem is occurring. You can't just continue to fail the student."

Statewide, the on-time graduation rate reached an all-time high of 85.9 percent for the Class of 2011. That's good enough to tie for third in the nation.

Iowa, with 88 percent, topped the list. Vermont and Wisconsin tied for second with 87 percent and Texas tied with Tennessee, New Hampshire, Indiana, Nebraska and North Dakota, which all posted rates of about 86 percent.

Texas ranks second behind Maine for graduation rates of Hispanic students -- the largest demographic in Texas schools -- with a graduation rate of about 82 percent.

Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326

Twitter: @jessamybrown