Graduation rates dip across Stamford high schools: COVID pandemic hurt students ‘disproportionately,’ official says

STAMFORD — The last school year was a particularly challenging one for students and staff in Stamford, and June’s graduation rates reflect some of those struggles.

Rates were down at all three public high schools, due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic which resulted in students spending less time in classrooms with face-to-face instruction.

Westhill High School saw the largest dip in the four-year graduation rate, with 82.9 percent of students graduating in June, compared with 86.3 the year before.

The Academy of Information Technology & Engineering, consistently the high school with the highest graduation rate in Stamford, saw a similar decline, from 98.7 percent in 2020 to 95.4 percent last summer.

Stamford High School seemed to weather the storm the best, with only a decrease of about 1 percentage point, from a 90.8 percent graduation rate to 89.7 percent.

“Last year was a very challenging year for kids and families and teachers,” said Amy Beldotti, associate superintendent for teaching and learning.

She said many students struggled to earn enough credits for graduation during the past two school years where they spent much of their school days at home. Some, who elected to remain in remote learning for the entirety of the last school year, never set foot in a school.

But to say that those students universally struggled would be incorrect. Beldotti and other school officials said they found that some students thrived in the at-home model.

District wide — including both at-home and in-school students — the number who were chronically absent, meaning they missed 10 percent or more of classes, also ballooned during the 2020-21 school year. Overall, one out of every five students in Stamford was chronically absent, data show.

The numbers were even more dramatic when looking at certain populations. The rate of chronic absenteeism among English learners, for example, was 40 percent across the district. English learners are students who do not yet communicate or learn effectively in English.

Among special education students, 30 percent missed 10 percent or more of their classes.

“Our numbers showed if you were not a kid engaged or strong academically, the pandemic hurt you disproportionately,” Beldotti said.

State standardized test results also showed that student performance was greatly affected by the pandemic.

“I think our numbers are not surprising in light of the pandemic,” Beldotti said.

The tangible effects of the pandemic — people getting sick and dying and others needing to quarantine — also hit certain pockets of the city worse than others, disproportionately affecting some students, the data show.

One bright spot for Stamford was the outcome of its summer school program, which was beefed up this year in order to deal with learning loss and to help students catch up. The program had plenty of hiccups, but officials touted it as a success.

Through the summer school program, an extra 70 high school seniors received their diploma.

“We did a really good job in a pandemic to graduate 70 more students,” Beldotti said, adding that the district offered students more opportunities and support to reach the number of credits needed to graduate.

Once added to the total number of graduates from June, that brings the district’s total graduation rate to 93.5 percent.

A total of 69 students didn’t reach the finish line to graduate last year. Of those, about 10 were classified as drop-outs, a handful went into adult education programs or moved from the city and 37 will be repeating the grade.