Maine grad rate improves again

AUGUSTA – For the second year in a row, the graduation rate in Maine has improved by a statistically significant amount. The percentage of students graduating within four year of entering high school for 2010-11 was 83.79 percent, up nearly a full percentage point compared to the previous year.

Sixty-four schools showed an increase in the graduation rate over the previous year and 66 showed a decrease; two remained unchanged.

The graduation rate is one measure of school performance. It is also one of the measures under the federal No Child Left Behind law for determining whether schools are making “Adequate Yearly Progress.” Federal progress results for all Maine school will be announced in late summer.

Girls graduated at a higher rate than boys: 86.45 percent compared to 81.29 percent. The rate for students in lower-income families was 72.66 percent, approximately 2 percentage points higher than last year, but still below the statewide average for all students.

“We are glad to see an increase and that Maine appears to remain ahead of the national average,” said Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen. “We still have considerable work to do.” He pointed to the effort by school districts around the state on developing learner-centered instructional systems as a path toward greater student engagement and fewer students dropping out.

In a learner-centered system based on proficiency, students advance to new material when they have mastered the previous material. That is, students move at their own pace – whether that is faster or slower than others in their class. It also means that students have more say in how they learn and how they demonstrate their learning. The result is greater student engagement and better understanding of the material.

“We have seen this working in many school districts and this is why we’ve made it the centerpiece of the Department’s strategic plan,” Bowen said.

One success story along these lines comes from Deer Isle-Stonington High School, where the graduation rate has soared from 57.5 percent in 2009 to 75.4 percent in 2010 and 78.6 percent in 2011.

“The entire faculty has focused their school improvement efforts on establishing and implementing college and career readiness standards, providing just-in-time supports and interventions when students show signs of struggling, and providing regular and frequent time for teachers to engage in ongoing professional learning,” according to Mark Kostin, associate director of the Great Schools Partnership, a non-profit that worked closely with the school on its efforts to redesign the way they do high school.

Twenty-one high schools increased their graduation rate by more than 10 percentage points in the past two years.

This is the third year in which Maine is reporting graduation rates based on the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate, or ACGR method, now required of all states by the U.S. Department of Education. This method calculates the rate for a single “cohort” of students – that is, all the students who entered 9th grade at the same time and who graduated in no more than four years.

The Maine Department of Education supports the use of the new method but has also warns that it paints only part of the picture regarding a school’s success at helping students graduate. The rate under this method does not include students who graduate in five or six years, for example. It also does not include students who may come back to school later to earn a GED. Evidence from the past two years suggests roughly another 1 to 3 percent of students will graduate in addition to the 83.79 percent who graduated in four years.

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