An improvement model at the high school is working, Cape Girardeau administrators say, and the proof lies in the numbers.
During June's regular meeting of the Cape Girardeau School Board, members asked to see data on the model's effectiveness and how high numbers of students transferring in and out of schools were possibly hurting the district's graduation rate.
Superintendent Jim Welker and Central principal Mike Cowan led the presentation of answers at Monday night's board meeting.
Percentages of students on track to graduate on time have risen, and incidents of failing grades have been cut in half, according to data presented by Welker. In the second semester of the 2007-2008 school year, 73 freshman were off the track that would lead them to graduate and 20 percent of students were failing courses. In the most recent school year, the number off track dropped to 18 and 10 percent were failing courses.
"It is encouraging to see these numbers," Cowan said. "And with these interventions, it's been critical to get to these kids to their sophomore year. Once they are, it seems to only be a matter of time and they are more likely to stay on track. We are still giving them the attention they need after that, but it is less focused as it is their first year out."
Since the 2007-2008 school year, the high school has had active interventions known as professional learning communities. Interventions have been mostly focused on the success of freshmen but have also included additions of eight-period days for all students. Freshman class interventions have included an expanded orientation and an addition of a special class for that grade designed to teach students good habits for studying and time management. More teacher collaboration has been ongoing schoolwide, a credit recovery program at the alternative school has been implemented and several other measures have been put in place as well.
The district's four-year cohort graduation rate was 67.5 percent for the class of 2011 and represents the percentage of students who graduated "on time," or in four years or less, with their class. Cowan has said a high number of mobile students is a factor in the rate not being higher. Also referred to as "mobility," or "transiency," the effect on graduation rates can be significant, particularly for schools with larger student populations, studies show.
Welker said he does not believe that mobility is a cause of the district's low graduation rate but is just one issue among many that drive the rate down. Data he compiled showed the graduation statuses of students who were with the district all four years would have produced a graduation rate of only 2.34 percentage points higher than the rate calculated to include students who transferred in or out of the high school.
Administrators had also been asked to examine what method worked best for informing board members of the district's goals to improve student achievement. They compiled a medley of student performance data, including a history of standardized test scores since 2002. Normal procedure for informing board members on progress toward meeting goals throughout the year is done by staff completing evaluations and presenting those evaluations to board members during meetings.
Welker said the reports are an accurate record of progress, and said his intention in compiling the data on standardized tests, graduate follow-ups and several other areas is to show the board it can be done at their request.
"I will admit that some of these numbers don't always look good," he said. "And for when used for this purpose, that's OK, because we aren't trying to hide anything."
Board member Phil Moore said it was reassuring that administrators "have their thumb on what is really going on with students" in the district, but that the extensive compilation of data by administration was not something the board would likely need to see on a regular basis.
301 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO