Published 11:01 pm Thursday, January 16, 2014

Local schools post strong graduation rates

The graduate rate for Charles Henderson High School increased by more than 20 percentage points in 2013, while rates at Goshen and Pike County high schools remained steady.

The statistics, released Thursday by the Alabama State Department of Education, reflect the graduation rates for the 2012-2013 cohort, or graduating class. Charles Henderson, the only high school in Troy City Schools, reported an 85 percent graduation rate, up from 58 percent last year. In the Pike County system, Goshen High School graduation rate for 2013 was 70 percent, down from 71 percent last year, and Pike County High School was 63 percent, down from 64 percent the previous year. The statewide average was 80 percent.

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Lee Hicks, superintendent for Troy City Schools, attributed the significant increase to administrators, counselors and record-keepers, all of whom have been working to rectify previous reporting errors and to create a system with more intervention and efforts to keep students in school.

Hicks said problems with records affected the 2012 graduation rate, which, last year, he said an internal review showed should have been over 65 percent. “We’ve been able to rectify that and it’s been a long process,” he said. “We’re pleased that our graduation rate is at 85 percent, but we know that just as fast as we got to 85 percent, it can drop … that’s why we’re going to be working every day to make sure we have systems in place to help students graduate.”

Dr. Mark Bazzell, superintendent for Pike County Schools, said graduation rates for the county schools remained virtually the same from the prior year. And while Pike County Schools has multiple programs, including intervention services that start as early as third grade, in place to boost graduation rates and ultimately lower dropout rates Bazzell said simply citing a graduation rate only tells a portion of the story.

“It’s important that the public understand what comprises those numbers,” he said.

The graduation rate measures the percentage of students in a cohort (or class) who graduate with a high school diploma within four years of entering the ninth grade. It does not include students who earn a certificate of completion (often special education students); students who earn a GED: students who fall behind their class by failing a grade; students who withdraw from a school with no corresponding enrollment records at another school; or those students who simply dropout before completing high school.

For example, according to statistics released by the schools, of the Goshen High School 2012-2013 cohort, 70 percent of the students who enrolled in the ninth grade graduated with a diploma; 13 percent earned a certificate of completion; 8 percent remained enrolled at the school; 6 percent were counted as “no-shows,” meaning they enrolled prior to a school year then never attended classes; and only 3 percent of the cohort were dropouts.

At Pike County High School, the same cohort include 63 percent graduating; 12 percent earning a certificate of completion; 8 percent still enrolled; 5 percent withdrawn from school; 8 percent no-shows; and 4 percent dropouts.

At Troy City Schools, 85 percent of the cohort graduated on time in the system; 2 percent earned a certificate of completion; 4 percent were still enrolled; 3 percent withdrew; 4 percent were no-shows; and 1 percent were dropouts.

Moreover, graduation rates increase as the overall size of the cohort decreases. “Let’s say you start with 100 kids at Goshen High School in ninth grade, and 70 of them are going to walk across the stage and get a diploma,” Bazzell said.

If any of those 100 students transfers to another accredited high school, either in Alabama or outside the state, and Goshen can document that transfer, the student becomes a member of the other school’s cohort. More importantly, Goshen’s overall cohort number decreases.

“And you still have those same 70 students walking across the stage, but that’s now a high percentage of the cohort,” Bazzell said.

Bazzell said the state’s significant growth in graduation rates – Dr. Tommy Bice reported a record 80 percent average graduation rate this week – is likely due in large part to focus on the cohort numbers and record-keeping.

“We just started tracking the cohorts in 2012, so we’re really just in the second year of this,” he said. “Next year you will start to see the numbers more reflective of steps school systems have made from a program standpoint and a policy standpoint to adjust.”

Hicks said while improved record-keeping and the ability to track students who had left the system has impacted the CHHS graduation rate, the district also is improving intervention efforts aimed at keeping students in school. “We have implement several steps that students have to go through with our administration before anybody can drop out, including a visit with the principal and a trip to the central office,” he said. “And Dr. (Boyd) English (CHHS principal) does a fantastic job of motivating students when he meets with them.”

Hicks also said statewide changes to graduation requirements, including the ability to offer a diploma with only 24 credit hours, are helping. “A lot of students have chosen to stay in school with the new diploma requirements, especially if they have gotten behind, because we show them how they can work and catch up and get that diploma.”