Cape 'pooling strategies' on dropout rate

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cape Girardeau Central High School's number of dropouts could fall in the coming years if strategies developed for preventing dropouts among special-education students prove effective among all student groups.

During April, principal Mike Cowan, special services director Deena Ring and Marty Vines, a Central social studies teacher, attended a national conference in Baltimore, Md., focused on dropout prevention and reduction. Their trip was sponsored by a grant the state received through the U.S. Department of Education's special-education office.

Cowan said research presentations at the conference focused particularly on reducing dropouts among minority students with disabilities, but the research showed common themes for all dropouts. Poverty -- and its consequences, like family instability -- often sends students down a road toward dropping out, studies have shown, and that is no different in Cape Girardeau, Cowan said.

Cowan said the whole idea of staff participation in the conferences is to develop action plans for reducing dropouts based on what school districts can learn from each other and from expert research. They will attend a state conference, known as the Missouri Dropout Prevention Summit, June 26 to 28.

"I would call it a pooling of strategies," he said.

The district's dropout rate has steadied in recent years after reaching its highest point in the past decade in 2008, but graduation rates for the district still fall below the state average. In 2011, the district's graduation rate using the leaver method was 76.9 percent, below Missouri's average of 86.4 percent. The leaver method for figuring graduation rates was the only method used by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education until 2011 until the U.S. Department of Education mandated last year that all states move to using a new method, called the four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate.

Under the leaver method, district's rates weren't affected if students took more than four years to graduate. The adjusted cohort method, however, does affect the rate and showed a graduation rate of 67.5 percent for the district in 2011. Most Missouri schools saw their rates fall at least a few percentage points with the new formula.

"We lose many of them when they are turning 17, and sometimes they are juniors, or sophomores, or even sometimes freshman, if they failed several times," Cowan said of Central students who drop out.

Missouri law allows students to drop out once they reach 17. But Cowan and other district staff hope to see the number of dropouts decline and the graduation rate go up, with a plan in the early stages of development based on strategies brought from the national conference, an upcoming state conference and the achievements of this year's graduating class, which was the first to go through all four years after the district implemented "Preparing for Academic Success" classes. Central staff say students benefit from the classes throughout high school after they are required to take them as freshman. During the classes, students are encouraged to form good study habits and communicate often with teachers.

The district is not yet developing its plan but is entering early stages, he said.

Some data on this year's graduates already collected by the district indicates the graduation rate may improve. But the district won't know for sure until DESE releases district report cards in August. Still, Cowan said, the rate may look one way under the traditional method of calculation and another way under the new method.

"It's almost like changing the rules while you're still playing the game," Cowan said.

He said he hopes a trend of high academic success for many of this year's graduates is a sign of what's to come for the district when official numbers are released later this year. More students than normal were awarded national and state honors for academic achievement. Overall, Cowan said, the class of 2012 was an "especially good group of kids."

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

301 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

1000 S. Silver Springs Road, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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