By MAUREEN HAYDEN
THE GOSHEN NEWS
INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s reported high school graduation rate continues to improve, moving from 77 percent to more than 88 percent in less than a decade, but there are still significant achievement gaps marked by race and income.
On Monday, the Indiana Department of Education released the graduation rates for all Indiana public and charter high schools for the 2011-12 school year. Statewide, the graduation rate is slightly more than 88 percent, up from just less than 87 percent for the 2010-11 school year. Five years ago, the high graduation rate was just less than 78 percent.
The numbers show that students who are black, Hispanic or low-income still have lower graduation rates than students who are white and more affluent. More than 90 percent of white students graduated on-time from Indiana high schools last year, while 77 percent of black students and 84 percent of Hispanic students did.
The data released Monday also shows that high schools across Indiana vary widely in their use of graduation waivers, which allow students to get their diplomas without having to pass the state’s required end-of-course assessment tests in math and English.
Of the 63,861 students who graduated from high school in the 2011-12 school year, almost 9 percent – or 5,723 students – were granted waivers so they could graduate. But in some schools, the percent reached as high as 30 percent.
Even if you exclude the waivers, and only count the students who graduated by passing the required tests, the graduation rates are still up: More than 80 percent in 2011-12 compared to 78.1 percent in 2010-11.
Local graduation rates
Goshen Schools saw the biggest increase from 2011 to 2012 of more than 7 percent from 80.8 percent to 87.9 percent.
“We have the SRT (student resource time) program at GHS, where students are assigned a teacher when they come in as freshmen and have that same teacher for the next four years for SRT,” Goshen Schools Superintendent Diane Woodworth said. “In that time they develop strong relationships with those teachers, who help monitor their grades, assign tutors, those kinds of things. Then there’s also just that relationship that forms between the teacher and student where the teachers are able to help manage some of the rough spots in these students’ lives, because they really get to know them and what they’re going through both at home and at school because of that relationship. So I think we’re seeing a little payoff from that.”
Woodworth also cited the International Baccalaureate program as a contributing factor to the graduation rate increase.
“It’s definitely something we’ve been working hard at,” Woodworth said of the increase. “So we’re very happy about it, but we want to keep it growing. We’re not satisfied with where it’s at, but it’s going in the right direction.”
“I think we’re happy that we’ve met and exceeded the state goal, for sure. I’ve always had a goal of graduating 100 percent, but we haven’t been able to hit that mark yet,” Fairfield Principal Ben Tonagel said. “Overall its a very strong graduation rate, but we’d like to see it keep inching up.”
While Fairfield’s 92.7 percent graduation is near the top in the area. It was inched out by Middlebury Schools which tallied a 92.8 percent rate.
Tonagel noted a credit recovery program and online courses as ways to help those students who have fallen behind.
In terms of waivers, Goshen had 37 and Fairfield had five.
Concord had 27, Wawasee had 12, Northridge had eight, NorthWood had six and Westview had one.
The graduation rates were released without any comment from Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat who took over as the state’s top schools chief in January, after defeating Republican incumbent Tony Bennett. Bennett had made improving Indiana’s graduation rate one of the top goals of his administration.
David Galvin, the communications manager for the Indiana Department of Education, said Ritz was still reviewing the numbers.
High school graduation rates play a critical role in how schools and school districts are evaluated by the state under its A-to-F grading system put into place in 2011.
The state gives every school and every school district a letter grade based on several metrics, including test scores and graduation rates. Public schools with low grades run the risk of being taken over by the state, while public schools with high grades are positioned to get more state funding.
In the future, schools may find it more difficult to issue waivers to boost their graduation rates. Legislation that passed in the session that ended in April will require the DOE to scrutinize schools with higher waiver rates more closely, and students that are given waivers will have a tougher time qualifying for state aid to pay for college.
House Education Chairman Bob Behning, a Republican from Noblesville, said the waiver information is critical to assessing the graduation rate, especially for individual schools.
“As a state, we’ve definitely been pushing to get our graduation rates up,” said Behning. “But we know there are individual schools that are granting too many waivers.”
The data released Monday shows the overall graduation rate for the state’s public high schools has continued to increase since the 2006-07 school year, with many schools in affluent districts showing graduation rates above the 90 percent mark.
Meanwhile, the overall graduation rates for non-public schools has dipped slightly: from just under 93 percent in 2006-07 to just less than 92 percent in 2011-12. (The DOE did not have the individual graduation rates for the non-public schools posted Monday.)
In releasing the state graduation rate of 88 percent on Monday, the DOE also released a second graduation rate, as calculated using a formula devised by the federal Department of Education. Under the federal DOE formula, Indiana’s graduation rate is 87 percent for the 2011-12 school year.
Ritz announced Indiana’s 4-Star schools for 2013 Tuesday. In order to achieve the designation, a school must be in the top 25th percentile of schools in ISTEP+ testing results. A total of 313 schools received the award.
Locally, NorthWood Middle School and NorthWood High School in the Wa–Nee Community Schools district were recognized.