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Poking Holes in Obama's Praise of Denver's Bruce Randolph School

The school is graduating 97 percent of seniors, but how many students drop out senior year?

In this week's State of the Union address, President Obama praised Denver's Bruce Randolph Middle and High School as a model of education reform that works. Last year the campus, which was taken over by its teachers, graduated 97 percent of seniors despite being located in a low-income, urban area—something most similar high schools have yet to achieve. But is Bruce Randolph's success all that it's cracked up to be?

Mike Cohen, the head of the advocacy group Achieve, Inc., says that although that graduation rate is worthy of praise, there's a another data point the public needs to know.

Cohen told NPR a more accurate measure of the school's success is, "Not just the percentage of 12th graders who graduate, but the percentage of 9th graders. Because a lot of students who drop out, drop out before they get to their senior year."

Essentially, if the school starts with 100 freshman and four years later, only 50 students remain as seniors—and 97 percent of those 50 graduate—the number of seniors graduating doesn't tell the whole story.

Certainly, some students will move or switch schools over the course of their high school career. Like many campuses, Bruce Randolph doesn't have accurate data on how many freshman finish as seniors. But, if Bruce Randolph is actually retaining a larger percentage of its freshman—and then graduating 97 percent of them—that's yet another reason to look more deeply into what specifically makes the school work.

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