Despite its academic struggles, North Chicago Community High School could count on at least one piece of good news: Students were getting their diplomas. The school reported a 90.3 percent graduation rate in 2010.
But in 2011, the figure plummeted to 50.2 percent, a dismal picture created by a new formula that more accurately tracks how many ninth-graders graduate within four years. The new method, required by the federal government, was used for the first time this year in Illinois, with sobering results: Across the state, about 75 percent of high schools saw small dips to big drops in graduation rates, causing educators to adjust to a new reality.
"I think the school probably felt like they were doing things right because we were at 90 percent," said Eric Gallagher, new principal at the struggling North Chicago high school. "It just took someone else to look at it from the outside."