Gradual gains made in graduation rates

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By Thomas Barr

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - While the latest graduation rate figures for Bullitt County put the district behind state averages, superintendent Keith Davis isn't overly concerned.

The data, which calculates the graduation rate for the Class of 2011, shows that two schools are well below the state average but Davis is convinced several factors play a part in the numbers.

"The rate has been calculated differently over the past two years, taking out the credit previously received for graduates who took longer than four years to complete and for students who dropped out and obtained a GED," said Davis. "This makes comparing rates for years other than to the Class of 2010 useless."

Overall, Davis said the district graduation rates have remained flat over the past four years.

"Regardless, the rate is too low," said Davis.

For the Class of 2011, the graduation rate in Bullitt County was 76 percent, down slightly from 2010's rate of 76.3, which was lower than the 78.5 percent the previous year.

Bullitt East had the best graduation rate of 85.4 percent, which was an increase from 78.8 but lower than the sterling marks of 87.1 for the Class of 2008 and 91.1 percent for 2009.

Bullitt Central had jumped to 81.6 for the Class of 2009 but fell to 68.2 for the past year.

And North Bullitt improved by over 7 points for a mark of 64.9 percent in 2011 but that was still well below the 2008 figure of 72.0 percent.

In analyzing all the figures, Davis said it is difficult because of the method the state uses to calculate the figures.

Still, the superintendent said there is one thing that is true - the graduation rate is not high enough.

Besides looking at the overall numbers, Davis said he was struck by some large gaps in the percentages of graduates when looking at males and females. At both Bullitt East and North Bullitt, the percentage of female graduates was double digits higher than their male counterparts.

Davis said all the principals have been working on strategies to improve the graduation rate. However, an even greater challenge is the one to make sure every student is college and career ready. Starting with this year's sophomore class (spring 2015 graduates), all students must meet standards to graduate, which could also impact future percentages.

One trap could be to "dumb down" the expectations to improve graduation marks. Davis said that would not happen in Bullitt County.

"I think we are on exactly the right path with the changes we have made and are in the process of making," said Davis. "Results will follow from the increased performance of our elementary and middle schools (dropouts don't start in high school, they start in kindergarten). The solutions we are putting in place are not quick fixes but long-term solutions."

At North Bullitt, Davis said he has seen a culture change over the past year or so. Jeff Marshall took over the helm last year and Davis said there is a "can-do" attitude in the entire building.

At Bullitt Central, the superintendent said the efforts to improve the educational standards and school culture might have been too much for some students to handle.

And at Bullitt East, Davis said the results have been very good. And the school also had a larger graduating class over the years which can help the percentages. His only concern is the gap between males and females, which he is confident will be addressed.

At all three high schools, Davis said he has full confidence in the leadership.

The district has changed the scope of the Riverview High School and put more of the burden back on the student's original school. Beginning this year, the home schools will have more of a stake and a role in the credit recovery for the students.

Also, Davis said the options for credit recovery, in general, are greater and the schools are tracking students closer to help them sooner rather than later.

Each school is working on the career readiness plan. The goal is to reduce dropouts and increase graduates. The career pathway is now being entered by ninth graders rather than waiting until the 11th grade.

In the end, Davis said it is the district's duty to make sure every student is ready to pursue either a career or a college education.

"It is possible that our graduation rate will decline somewhat as we raise the bar higher and make certain that a diploma from Bullitt County means more than just seat time requirements were met," said Davis. "I believe our community supports the fact that our Board is taking this stand. We want every student to graduate but we have to be sure that they deserve the diploma that they are being granted.'

The state average over the past four years has been consistently rising over the past four years. Going from a 75 percent for the Class of 2008, it rose to 78 percent for the Class of 2011.

In comparison, Jefferson County had a graduation rate of 67.8 percent for the Class of 2011. Oldham County had a rate of 85.6 percent, while Spencer County total 80.2 percent and Shelby County graduated 82.4 percent of its students.