Graduation rates at school districts around Southeast Missouri have taken a dip under a new system of calculating the numbers, including in Cape Girardeau, where the new method puts the rate down almost 10 points to under 70 percent.
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released its 2010-2011 report card on its website Thursday, which contains the new graduation rates for the state, districts and schools. Using the new methods, many schools showed a decrease in graduation rates, but the federal government maintains those rates are more accurate.
The new system, known as the four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate, divides the number of freshmen students who graduate in four years with a regular high school diploma by the number of students who form the "adjusted cohort" for the graduating class. An adjusted cohort is formed initially with students entering the ninth grade for the first time at a given school and is adjusted for students who enter or leave the class.
Students who leave the class by transferring to another school do not affect the rate as long as the transfer is documented, but dropouts always do, as do students who take longer than four years to graduate.
Under the previous method, known as the "leaver method," rates weren't affected if students took more than four years to graduate. And before, when students disappeared they often were classified as transfers, even though some of them had actually dropped out. Many schools weren't required to document that transfers showed up somewhere else.
The U.S. Department of Education is mandating this year that all states use the new method. The change was spurred in part from a lack of consistency between the methods states were using to compute graduation rates. Rates can now be uniformly compared across states.
Over the summer, department officials said graduation rates would appear to decrease across the board as states moved to the new method, because it requires that each student be tracked, giving a more accurate count of how many actually finish high school. While making the switch to the new method, some states reported graduation rates 10 or 15 percentage points lower than those calculated with earlier methods.
Missouri's rate using the new method dropped to 79.8 percent for 2011, compared to 86.4 percent using the old method in the same year. The Cape Girardeau School District shows a 76.9 percent graduation rate for 2011 using the old method. Using the new system, the district's rate is listed as 67.5 percent.
For the Scott City School District, the old method showed the 2011 rate at 93.6 percent. With the new method, it's 89.2 percent.
Less of a difference is seen in the Jackson School District. Using the old method, the 2011 rate there is 93.3 percent. With the new method, it is listed at 90.2 percent.
Dr. Rita Fisher, assistant superintendent in Jackson, said students who take longer than four years to graduate will affect her district the most.
"We do have students that it takes them an extra semester, and we have the special education students who are allowed to stay until they are 21," she said. "I think if the student needs the extra time, they should have it."
Dr. Mike Cowan, principal of Central High School, addressed the district's graduation rate dropping in a letter to parents in November. Cowan wrote that high schools with significant at-risk populations would see the most significant decline in their rates of graduation.
"With our level of diversity at Cape Central, where we have significant presence of all the standard at-risk populations, I anticipate we will experience an approximate decline of 10 percentage points," he wrote.
The good news for the school, he wrote, is that there are reform initiatives in place to address graduation rates and focus on graduating incoming freshmen in four years.
Those initiatives include the use of professional learning community methods and "Preparing for Academic Success" classes, which are required for freshmen students. The classes provide time each day for students to ask questions, share concerns, focus on study time and work with their teacher to stay on top of organization and planning.
According to DESE, the new rates will not have any No Child Left Behind implications until next year, but Missouri has received approval from the U.S. Department of Education to use a five-year graduation rate for 2012. Graduation rates are used in determining whether schools make adequate yearly progress under the act.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
1000 S. Silver Springs Road, Cape Girardeau, MO
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