Region improves graduation rates

Education stockBy Chris Kieffer
Daily Journal

Most Northeast Mississippi school districts improved their graduation and dropout rates, according to data released on Thursday by the Mississippi Department of Education.

The data is for students who entered ninth grade in 2008 and graduated in May 2012. Mississippi’s graduation rate of 75.5 percent was nearly two-percentage points higher than it was for the Class of 2011 and was its highest rate since the format for calculating it was changed in 2007.

The state’s dropout rate of 13.9 is also the lowest in that period and is nearly 3 percentage points better than the year before.

Meanwhile, 19 of Northeast Mississippi’s 31 school districts improved their graduation rates from the previous year, and 20 of them bettered their dropout rate. Four districts had the same dropout rate and seven got worse.

“I think our region is making good progress,” said CREATE Foundation Senior Vice President Lewis Whitfield, who has helped organize a dropout prevention summit for districts from the region. “It was encouraging to me to see some giant leaps forward by a few of these districts.”

Mississippi Interim State Superintendent of Education Lynn House attributed the state’s gains to schools and districts focusing on attendance and targeting students at risk of dropping out of school.

“Those efforts, as well as MDE providing more technical assistance to districts and school counselors exploring multiple pathways to college and careers with students, have caused dramatic decreases in students leaving school and increases in graduation,” House said in a press release.

Also released were completion rates, which include students who received certificates of completion or earned their GED. Exact figures were not provided for districts with dropout rates below 5 percent or completion rates above 95 percent because that information could single out individual students.

Several Northeast Mississippi districts ranked near the top of the state. Corinth’s 92.2 percent graduation rate was best in the state. Also in the top 10 were Booneville, North Tippah, Pontotoc City and Union County.

Corinth Superintendent Lee Childress said the district’s switch to the Excellence for All program, which uses a much more rigorous curriculum, has helped.

“While we did raise the bar and raise the expectations, we found that all children would meet the higher standard,” he said.

The region also had the five individual schools with the highest graduation rates. Tremont Attendance Center led the state with 94.2 percent of its students graduating. It was immediately followed by West Union (93.7), Hatley (93.6), Myrtle (92.6) and Corinth (92.2).

Shannon High’s 54.7 rate was the lowest in the region and seventh worst in the state. Blue Mountain was 10th worst at 55.8 percent.

The region did not have any districts in the bottom 25 for graduation rates. Its lowest – Aberdeen – was 26th from the bottom at 65.7 percent.

Twenty-four of the region’s 31 districts were better than the state average for dropouts, and 17 were better for graduation rate. West Point improved its graduation rate by 17.5 percentage points to 74.4 percent, and Okolona did so by 16.3 points (73.9).

Other districts to improve graduation rates by more than 10 percentage points were Corinth, Chickasaw County and Itawamba County.

“We are proud of the direction our graduation rate is going,” said Itawamba County Superintendent Michael Nanney. “We just try to encourage our students and let them know the importance of a high school diploma.”

Tupelo’s graduation rate fell by about a percentage point to 73.5 percent. Its dropout rate improved by nearly 7 points to 10.6 percent.

“We are pleased that our graduation rate has been improving, but we recognize that continued improvement is needed,” said Superintendent Gearl Loden. “Our four-year graduation rate is currently based on our 2012 graduating class. The changes we make today will not be reflected for a few years. Each day, our teachers, staff and graduation coaches work diligently to meet the needs of all of our students.”

Lee County’s graduation rate improved by a percentage point to 68.3 percent. Its dropout rate improved by 2.5 points to 19 percent.

Mooreville High graduated 79.8 percent of its students and had a 13.9 percent dropout rate. Saltillo High graduated 72.7 percent and had a 16.2 percent dropout rate. Shannon had a dropout rate of 26.2 percent.

“We are currently working on everything we can to improve that,” said Superintendent Jimmy Weeks. “Unfortunately, it takes some time before you see those dropout rates change. It is not where we want to be, but we are concerned with that and are doing everything we can to keep kids in school and get them to earn their diplomas.”

Among the efforts he cited are offering incentives for attendance and providing tutoring for those struggling to pass state tests required for graduation.

More details on the test scores in today’s Daily Journal.

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