Maine grad rates rise for third year in a row

AUGUSTA – The four-year graduation rate for Maine high schools rose for a third year in a row, to 85.34 percent for 2012. It’s a rise of more than 1½ percentage points from the previous year and nearly 5 percentage points since 2009.

“This is great news for Maine education, and a testament to a lot of hard work by a lot of educators,” said Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen. “What we need to do now is really dig down into the data – which schools are making gains, and what are they doing? Then, let’s do more of what works.”

Bowen announced the statewide results during a press conference at Deer Isle-Stonington High School. He chose the school for the event because it has seen a significant increase in its graduation rate three years in a row, from 58 percent to 94 percent. Bowen spoke with teachers at the school about their practices before the announcement. Afterward, he planned to tour the school to visit the in-house industrial arts program, speak with students and teachers about the marine studies pathway under development, and learn more about the school’s professional development and feedback, the school’s student assistance team, and its work developing a proficiency-based education system.

“There is a clear culture that’s been developed at this school – a belief by everyone that every student has the ability to be successful,” Bowen said. “I commend Principal Todd West and his staff for putting student success at the center of every decision they make. It is paying off and I think we can learn a lot from them, as well as from other schools.”

The four-year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate is now in its fourth year of usage in Maine and has been the method for determining the graduation rate in all states for at least three years. Maine also calculates the five-year graduation rate. The five-year rate for the 2011 graduating class was 85.99 percent, a little more than 2 percentage points higher than the four-year rate for 2011.

Graduation rates for all Maine schools can be found on the Maine DOE’s graduation rates page.

Not all of the news was positive. Of Maine’s 133 high schools, 48 – more than a third – did not reach the 83 percent target set according to the federal accountability standards; more than 40 percent of Maine high schools did not improve their graduation rate from the year before.

“Today’s news is certainly good, but it’s not good for everyone,” Bowen said. “More than one in seven students in Maine who enters ninth grade does not complete high school four years later. There is a lot more work to do.”

Gov. Paul R. LePage also praised the trend in graduation rates.

“I have been criticized by some who think all I have to say is bad things about Maine’s schools,” LePage said. “Let me be the first to give credit where it’s due. Our teachers and our schools are making progress on graduation rates and I applaud that. I will not rest, though, and I know they won’t, either, while we still have almost 2,000 students  a year dropping out.”

Bowen planned to spend the entire day at the school as part of a tour that will take him to all nine superintendent regions before the end of this school year. Bowen wants to see first-hand the kinds of innovative practices schools are implementing that are showing promise and that are helping to forward the priorities in the Maine DOE strategic plan and the Governor’s ABC Plan for education. Bowen has conducted two previous “listening tours” at which he gathered ideas and feedback for the Department’s strategic plan. This time, he said, is more of a “best practices” tour – one in which he hopes to learn more about promising work in Maine’s schools, and to share it publicly.

“I came up to Deer Isle because we clearly have great work going on in Maine schools,” he said. “We need to learn more about what they are doing and share it.”

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