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April 16, 2014

A tip of the cap: Southern Indiana graduation rates mostly on the rise

Most schools in Clark, Floyd counties topped state rate of 88.6 percent

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Mostly, graduation rates in Clark and Floyd counties are up. But like the state average, the changes are mostly minimal.

The Indiana Board of Education released the 2013 numbers Wednesday. Though the state average didn’t change much — 88.6 percent for 2013, one-tenth of a percentage point less than 2012 — most schools in both counties this year topped that target.

Most high schools in the area were either exceeding or approaching the 90 percent mark last year. District officials said once they reach that point, it’s difficult to make much movement.

NEW ALBANY-FLOYD COUNTY

With both its schools scoring higher than 90 percent, New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. director of high schools Louis Jensen said he’s proud of the work teachers, principals and students did in 2013.

“What the team has done there in a short period of time is remarkable,” Jensen said. “Getting to that 97 percent, when you see what percentage of students fall in that, it’s impressive. Both are working toward a common goal for a high graduation rate.”

As a district, 94.9 percent of the students got their diplomas. That’s up 0.4 percentage points from 2012. Floyd Central High School moved from 95.3 percent in 2012 to 97 percent.

New Albany High School’s rate dropped slightly to 93.1 percent, six-tenths of a percentage point from the year previous.

Jensen said slight moves like that aren’t necessarily due to changes in how those students are treated, but changes in the group of students from the year before.

The graduation rates are based on a cohort, which means the students in that senior class are tracked all the way from their freshman year.

He said differences in one cohort group from another — such as the number of special education students with severe and profound disabilities — can have a negative impact on those rates.

“It’s tough to compare a specific class of graduates to the year before because each cohort is different,” Jensen said. “Our goal is to be in the upper 90s every year. I don’t really think it’s measurable in our case because it’s a different cohort. Every student in that [graduating] class is potentially in the denominator. You could have more students who are cognitively challenged from one year to the next.”

New Albany High School also has the second-highest percentage of students who received a graduation waiver. Waivers are granted if students can’t pass part of their End of Course Assessments in math or English, but meet a series of other requirements.

At 24.5 percent of graduates receiving a waiver, Jensen said the district is working hard to make sure more students pass ECAs without the need for a waiver.

“Our goal is for both schools to be at 90 percent passing as a cohort both in English and math,” Jensen said. “We don’t have either school there, but that is our goal.”

But with both schools surpassing the 90 percent mark, he said it’s evident that their schools are of good quality.

“We’re excited about that because we’re moving in the right direction,” Jensen said. “It’s very positive for our school district that we continue to improve on graduation rates.”

WEST CLARK

As the only district whose averages fell both at every school and at the district level, West Clark Community Schools Superintendent Monty Schneider said he had hoped to see higher numbers. But with every school approaching or exceeding a 95 percent graduation rate, he said it’s hard to be disappointed.

“We strive to do better and I would hope that 2014’s will be higher than 2013,” Schneider said. “I’m 64 and people talk about going to the good old days, but graduation rates were about 50 percent back then.”

As a district, 94.2 percent of West Clark Community Schools’ students graduated, which is down six-tenths of a percentage point from last year. Silver Creek High School fell nine-tenths of a percentage point to 92.6 percent and Henryville High School also dropped less than a full point to 94.7 percent.

Though Borden had the highest drop of 1.6 percentage points, it came down from 100 percent of students graduating in 2012 to 98.4 percent in 2013.

Schneider said since their schools are a little smaller than some of the others in the area, one or two students can make a big difference in the rates. One of Borden’s students in the class of 2013 cohort didn’t graduate, which hurt last year’s perfect record.

“There can be some unusual situations that can keep you from achieving that,” Schneider said. “With so few, it doesn’t take much to skew it if you’re talking about five kids to start with. In the case of Borden, it was one kid. Some of it’s school, some of it’s family or a combination of both. All schools have made a big effort to graduate all of our kids and we’ll continue to do that.”

Henryville had the highest percentage of students graduating on waiver at 24.5 percent. Schneider said he couldn’t comment directly on why that’s the case, but he said there could be some factors involved in that number.

“You hate to keep pointing back to the tornado, which was the year before, whether it had any effect on it or not,” Schneider said. “You have to explain the waivers and those kind of things when you make one. Generally, the department of education checks on us or any school if there’s an abnormally high level of them.”

CLARKSVILLE

One student kept Clarksville Community Schools from getting a perfect graduation rate for 2013, but the high school is still up from the year before.

Brian Allred, principal at Clarksville High School, said keeping track of students and making sure all their documentation is up to date helps when there’s a transient student population like Clarksville’s.

“Obviously, we’re very pleased about that,” Allred said. “Here’s how that kind of thing happens: We are accountable for all students who enter our building in that cohort. We make great strides to know if students leave us, where they go. We’re able to do that because we’re small. That means we’re responsible if the student transfers from us, we document that.”

He said it can be difficult to keep that up to date, but it’s not as hard because they’re such a small district. With an audit from the DOE on Clarksville’s students, he said he had to produce documents not only of where parents intended to enroll a student when they moved, but confirmation from that school that the student actually enrolled there.

“If you don’t have all that documented and can’t account for them, they count against you on that rate,” Allred said.

Clarksville’s waiver rate was the third highest in both counties. Allred said there are several measures the school takes to ensure more students perform well on their ECAs.

He said between predictor tests and additional blocks of time for remediation, he thinks more students will pass ECAs in the future.

“We’re just really trying to be as proactive as possible and also making sure we are teaching those power standards that the student wants us to assess,” Allred said. “We are constantly looking at, reviewing and tweaking that. We’re trying to assess the students and give them opportunities to practice.”

GREATER CLARK

With 90.2 percent of their students getting a diploma in 2013, Greater Clark County Schools’ graduation rate has been on the rise since 2011. But it’s the only district that has schools that aren’t quite in the 90 percentage range yet.

New Washington High School’s rate fell slightly, from 91.7 percent in 2012 to 89.7 percent in 2013. Jeffersonville High School’s rate increased by 1.4 percentage points to 89 percent and Charlestown High School improved by nearly five percentage points to 94.2 percent.

Look for a report on Greater Clark’s graduation rates in an upcoming edition of the News and Tribune.

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Students who attended the Renaissance Academy's Culture Camp lead other students in an exercise, brainstorming thoughts, fears and opinions of the new learning style and school. The Academy is largely based on projects, working in groups and hands-on education.

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