Bellevue’s black and Hispanic students still less likely to graduate, go to college

Approximately 10 percent of Bellevue School District seniors have historically failed to graduate, a trend that continues today. But in an increasingly diverse district, these students are disproportionately minorities, according to a Jan. 7 report to the School Board.

There is a “large and persistent difference ” in the graduation rates of minority students compared to white and Asian students, according to the report. There is also a noticeable difference in the percentage of black and Hispanic students who go on to attend college and continue on past their first year compared to other Bellevue students.

“There’s always been a gap, but we’re trying to close it. It’s getting better, but it’s not gone,” Supervisor of K-12 Counseling Deborah Kraft said. “Remember, 10 years ago, the district was primarily white. We’ve had a huge change in the kind of students that we’re trying to educate. You have to figure out what speaks to that kid.”

Last year, 95 seniors did not graduate from Bellevue, Interlake, International, Newport and Sammamish High Schools. Hispanic students made up 24 percent of that group, but only made up 11 percent of the overall class, according to the data.

Bellevue regularly sends scores of students on to scores of prestigious colleges and universities, with more than 50 students being accepted into Ivy League colleges last year. But only half of black students and roughly 40 percent of Hispanic students graduating in 2016 reported planning to go to a four-year college.

There is no one reason why black and Hispanic/Latino students aren’t graduating and going on to college at the same rate as their peers, Kraft said.

“As I drill down into these kids’ stories, they all have different stories and family combinations or obligations. There’s so many pieces to it,” she said, adding that some have parents who never went to college, who need assistance supporting the household and some are even dealing with traumatic experiences.

To help solve the problem, the district has placed “graduation success coaches” at four of the high schools this fall to help support students who are struggling. The coaches were formally called “progress monitors.”

In the past, progress monitors were only in Interlake and Bellevue High Schools and worked primarily with freshman and sophomores, Kraft said. Now, they work primarily as mentors to juniors and seniors and see them sometimes as often as every day.

Nearly 80 students are being served by the coaches this year. There have been early indicators of success, Kraft and her associates Naomi Calvo and Kristin McChesney reported, with double digit increases in the percentage of A and B grades received and similar reductions in the amount of C, D and F grades.

Following a 2014 state House of Representatives bill to encourage high schools to re-engage students at risk of dropping out, the Bellevue School District has partnered with for-profit online education company Graduation Alliance. Students who complete the program earn a Bellevue School District diploma.

The Bellevue School District’s graduation rates have hovered around 90 percent for the last five years. But, the five-year graduation rate has increased over time, up from 91 percent for the Class of 2013 to around 95 percent for the Class of 2016.