February 27, 2013

Maine's graduation rate rises for the 3rd straight year

Educators say the 85.3 percent rate is a sign of progress but stress that there's still room to improve.

By Susan McMillan smcmillan@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Editors’ note: This database was revised on Feb. 27 to correct several errors in schools’ past graduation rates.

AUGUSTA — Maine's high school graduation rate has improved significantly for the third straight year. Figures released Monday by the state Department of Education show that the statewide rate for 2012 was 85.3 percent.

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The collective rate at Maine’s 12 private high schools was 91.5 percent.

The rate for economically disadvantaged students increased from 73 percent to 75.7 percent from 2010-11 to 2011-12, and the rate for students with disabilities increased from 66 percent to 70.12 percent.

The rate for student with limited English proficiency dropped from 78 percent to 74.07 percent over that time.

• The target for adequate yearly progress outlined in the federal No Child Left Behind Act is 83 percent. In Maine, 85 of 133 high schools were above that target.

The school with the highest graduation rate was a private school, John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor, at 99.12 percent. The school with the lowest rate was Wiscasset High School, at 61.54 percent.

Mattanawcook Academy in Lincoln saw the biggest increase from 2010-11 to 2011-12, going from a graduation rate of 71.43 to a rate of 87.23. Easton Junior-Senior High School saw the biggest drop, from 100 percent to 83 percent, although that school had just 20 graduates.

Last fall, the U.S. Department of Education released data for the first time that compared graduation rates among states using the same standard. Maine ranked 10th for the 2011-11 year, behind Vermont and New Hampshire but ahead of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island among New England states.

Maine’s graduation rate has been increasing ever since the state changed its formula, which is based on the number of students who entered ninth grade at the same time and graduated in no more than four years.

The rate was 83.8 percent in 2011, 82.8 percent in 2010 and 80.4 percent in 2009. Before that, Maine calculated the rate in a way that is not comparable.

Statewide last year, 13,036 high school students graduated, out of 15,276 who started high school four years earlier.

The figures represent 133 high schools, including one charter school – the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Fairfield – and the town academies where at least 60 percent of the students are publicly funded.

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said too many students are not graduating on time, and sizeable gaps remain between groups of students.

But he said the 5 percentage-point rise since 2009, with much greater increases at some schools, are signs of meaningful progress.

"We're on an upward trend, and we're very interested to see what schools are doing so we can share those best practices," Bowen said in an interview.

Bowen spent Monday at Deer Isle-Stonington High School, which has increased its graduation rate from 58 percent to 94 percent since 2009.

The staff told him that its success comes from steps such as starting professional learning communities, in which teachers share what works for them, and creating a student assistance program in which each student is matched with a faculty adviser.

The new figures show that 75 of Maine's high schools, 56 percent, improved their graduation rates from 2011 to 2012. About 36 percent fell below the threshold of 83 percent set in federal accountability standards.

While the graduation rate at Deering High School in Portland increased from 76.5 percent in 2010-11 to 81.6 percent last year, the rate at Portland High for the same period went down 10 percentage points, from 83.5 to 73.3.

School board Chairman Jaimey Caron said nothing less than 100 percent is acceptable at the city's high schools.

"Our goal is to graduate 100 percent of our students and have them be college- and career-ready," Caron said Monday. "When you look at some of the jobs and (post-secondary) schools that are out there, you've got to have some pretty good skills. It's not just enough to graduate anymore."

Caron said the 70 to 80 percent graduation rate range is not acceptable, but Portland is unlike any other school district in Maine. Besides being the largest district, it has a significant number of refugees and immigrants from across the globe.

Because of that, he said, "It's hard to compare us to other folks."

Lake Region High School Principal Ted Finn didn't need to see the latest data to know that his school in Naples has been improving. He sees the improvements in the halls and classrooms every day.

"We've changed the entire culture here," Finn said Monday.

The school of about 570 students from Naples, Bridgton, Casco and Sebago was targeted in 2010 under the federal No Child Left Behind Act as one of 10 persistently low-performing schools in Maine and was awarded a $1.6 million federal grant to turn things around.

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