Credit: File photo

For the third year in a row, the Montgomery school system’s graduation rate has declined.

The graduation dropped to 88.4% for the 2017-2018 academic year, a 1.2% decrease from the previous year, according to recently released data.
Rates have been declining and are at the lowest level since 2013 but remain above state and national averages.

The graduation rate for the 2016-17 school year was 89.5%. The 2015-16 rate was 89.7%. And in 2014-15, it was 89.8%.

The system’s report says “it is important to note that students who receive a Maryland High School Certificate of Program Completion do not meet federal guidelines for a high school diploma,” adversely impacting graduation rates, although it does not indicate how many students this covers.

A school system spokesman attributed the decline to a sharp increase in unaccompanied minors who relocated to the county in 2014, a large portion of whom were high school students.

County data shows 1,117 unaccompanied children were relocated to Montgomery County in 2014 and 534 in 2015. It does not indicate how many were high school students.

“These are students who came to the U.S. with limited credits and limited to no English, but the state requires us to enroll them as freshmen in high school,” said Derek Turner, the spokesman. “I don’t know about you, but if you put me in a country where I didn’t know the language, I wouldn’t graduate in four years.”

The Class of 2018 experienced increases in graduation rates for black students, students of two or more races, limited English proficient students and students receiving free and reduced-price meals. All other groups – white students, Hispanic students, Asian students and students receiving special education services – experienced decreases in graduation rates.

The national four-year graduation rate is 84%. Maryland’s rate is about 87%.

While the four-year graduation rate is declining, more students are graduating in five years, Turner said, a major accomplishment for unaccompanied minors. The school system’s five-year graduation rate is 91.4 percent.

“It’s a challenge for us, but we know we have a responsibility to educate every student who comes to us, regardless of their background,” Turner said. “We want to make sure we’re making progress to ensure students are able to leave MCPS with the foundational skills they need to thrive in the community.”

A highlight of the most recent graduation numbers, school officials said, was a nearly 6% increase in the graduation rate for limited English language proficiency students, which was recorded at 46.6% for the 2017-18 school year.

The increase is “particularly noteworthy since there also was an increase of 444 students in enrollment,” according to the school system’s report.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at