Public schools see changes in grad rates
by Laura Camper
May 26, 2012 | 5165 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Some of Weaver High School's 2012 graduates are shown Thursday. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
Some of Weaver High School's 2012 graduates are shown Thursday. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
Nearly all local school systems saw declining graduation rates in 2011, but administrators say the culprit may not have been more dropouts, but a change in the way the state calculates graduation rates.

Anniston City Schools Superintendent Joan Frazier said this is the first year the state has counted all students who attended the high school at any time during the past four years who should have graduated with the class of 2011.

This year, the state introduced a new category of students called no-shows. Those students attended the high school at some point but didn’t graduate with their class. They may not have dropped out, their status is just unknown. That helped bring down graduation rates across the state to an average of 72 percent. In 2009-10 the state average was 87.65 percent.

Frazier said the change greatly affects school systems with a more transient population. Anniston High School system started out the 2010-11 school year with 73 no-shows.

“We were able to find 30 of those students,” Frazier said. “To find the 30 that we did find, literally we called all over the country. We called relatives. We even found students in Mexico.”

The school ended up with 16 percent of its class of 2011 being classified as no-shows. That had an impact on its graduation rate helping to drive it from 71.43 percent in 2009-10 to 58 percent in 2010-11.

Piedmont High School Principal Jerry Snow heard talk of the new calculations and started a couple of years ago stepping up data collection on missing students.

“When they started talking about it, we started making plans to increase our awareness and make sure that if (students) left they went somewhere else,” Snow said.

It paid off for the school. Piedmont City Schools, with a graduation rate of 97 percent, was the only local system that saw an increase. It had a graduation rate of 94.67 percent in the 2009-10 school year.

Snow is proud of the system’s graduation rate and said the school works hard to make sure students graduate. In the class of 2011, only two students dropped out, he said.

“They were kids that came in with their parents and we tried to talk them out of it, but they just would not do it,” Snow said. “They wanted them to go to work.”

If the school has a student who stops coming to class, Piedmont administrators contact the students and the parents to find out why.

“You always meet with the parents, the child, the grandparents, depending on who they live with and find out what the reason is,” Snow said. “We’ve always tried to work with the kids that need help.”

So far, Snow said, what they’ve been doing has worked.

Oxford High School’s graduation rate dropped slightly in 2011 to 90 percent from 96.51. The state lists a no-show rate for the system as less than 10 students and no percentage. Jacksonville City Schools graduation rate fell to 86 percent from 98.29 percent. It also was listed as having no percentage of no-show students. Calhoun County Schools fell to 78 percent from 85.49. It had a no-show rate of 4 percent.

Administrators from those systems couldn’t be reached for comment by Friday afternoon.

Frazier noted the two rates aren’t really comparable.

“This is a baseline year,” Frazier said. “It’s like everything else when you change how you calculate a piece of data you establish the baseline with the new method of calculation.”

Assistant State Superintendent Melinda Maddox agreed, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. “This is where we will be starting. From this year forward, we can compare it,” she said.

State education officials said figures for some other Southern states included Georgia at 67 percent, Louisiana at 71 percent, North Carolina at 78 percent and Mississippi at 62 percent.

The new method of measuring graduation rates was recommended by the National Governors Association.

According to their website, in 2005, all 50 governors agreed to use a common formula to figure graduation rates.The new formula measures a graduating class over four years, in order to accurately calculate the graduation rate allowing states to develop effective strategies deal with problems, the website states.

Star staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545.

This article contains information from the Associated Press.

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