Area school districts mostly top state average for graduation rate

A high school classroom at Crossroads Charter Academy is pictured Thursday. The Michigan Center for Educational Performance and Information (CEPI) on Feb. 28 released data on graduation and dropout rates for the 2017-18 school year. (Pioneer photo/Tim Rath)

MECOSTA, OSCEOLA COUNTIES — Most area school districts exceeded the state average for graduation rate in the 2017-18 school year, according to data released Feb. 28 by the Michigan Center for Educational Performance and Information (CEPI).

Morley Stanwood Community Schools led local area districts with a four-year graduation rate of 91.84 percent, while Reed City Area Public Schools had 89.47 percent. Evart Public Schools had 88.52 percent, while Crossroads Charter Academy finished with 86.36 percent.

The Chippewa Hills School District (72.89 percent) and Big Rapids Public Schools (71.04 percent) fell below the statewide average of 80.64 percent.

A four-year rate indicates that a student has graduated within the traditional four years of high school, as opposed to a five-year and a six-year rate, which is also tracked by CEPI.

“I’m pleased — our staff is doing a phenomenal job of connecting with kids,” Reed City Superintendent Myra Munroe said. “But for me, our numbers aren’t high enough. What I always look at, our try to achieve, is 95 percent of students graduating on time. There are always exceptions for kids who need extra time, but the ultimate goal is that 100 percent of kids graduate.”

Half of area school districts improved upon their four-year cohort score, going back to the 2014-15 graduation year. Evart gained 19.08 percentage points in that time period, while Morley Stanwood added 8.3 percentage points. Reed City improved by 6.51 points.

Chippewa Hills (4.76 points), Big Rapids (3.96 percentage points) and Crossroads (1.14 points) all saw declines from their 2014-15 scores. The statewide average in that year was 79.79 percent.

“I think there are variables that apply to different districts that have to be taken into consideration when reviewing dropout or graduation data,” Chippewa Hills Superintendent Bob Grover said. “For example, if a school district has an alternative education program, typically, they will have a lower graduation rate, thus a higher dropout rate (than others that do not have one), simply because they are servicing that population.”

Unlike some local districts, Grover said, Chippewa Hills utilizes an alternative education program, which removes students who are at risk of dropping out and puts them in a separate learning environment. Within the past three years, the district has added a computer-based element to the alternative program, which allows students to learn alone if necessary.

The upside of alternative ed, Grover said, is that students who would otherwise drop out are given another chance at graduating. The downside is that the district’s rate of students graduating within four years is lower than it might be otherwise. Grover estimated there are 10 students out of roughly 105 in the Chippewa Hills class of 2019 in the district’s alternative ed program.

Grover said he was pleased to see the district’s dropout rate in 2017-18, 13.86 percent, remain basically flat when compared with the 2014-15 score (13.97 percent).

“I’m comfortable saying that if we miss a couple of points in the graduation rate in order to help a couple others, it’s worth it,” Grover said.

The total percentages of dropout rate and graduation rate do not equal one another because the state counts “off-track continuing” students and “other completer (GED, etc.)” in separate categories. Most area districts had fewer than 10 students in both categories in 2017-18.

Big Rapids Superintendent Tim Haist said his district is in a similar situation as Chippewa Hills regarding alternative education. He said he was pleased to see Big Rapids High School improve its score from 2014-15 to 2017-18 in terms of graduation rate. The district on a whole is now focused on improving graduation numbers in its alternative ed population, he said.

“We want to look at new ways to create incentives to increase their motivation for learning, their participation and work output. For getting a certain amount of work done or lessons completed, the kids might get to go out to lunch with the principal, or go bowling with their class. It’s a small thing, but it can mean a lot,” he said.

Morley Stanwood High School Principal James Nelson celebrated the district’s score and its rate of increase. He attributed the rise to the district eliminating its alternative program about four years ago, as well as new educational standards passed by the state legislature.

“When we closed our alternative school, we brought those kids back to us and they had the same expectations as everybody else. We didn’t let them feel separate, we made them part of our culture — and that culture was, ‘We’re going to lead you to a path that’s going to be successful,’” Nelson said.

“The second (reason), that I think had a bigger impact, was the state giving us a little more flexibility with our Common Core requirements,” he continued. “It allows us to bend those requirements to meet the needs of a student who might be going into the military or a skilled trade, which I think overall is a huge positive for everyone. You’re not just saying, ‘Here’s a college-bound curriculum — and you’re all going to take it, or you’ll drown.’”

Crossroads had the smallest graduating class of any district surveyed, with only 38 students in 2017-18. Superintendent Christopher White said it makes the dropout rate slightly challenging to understand when few students can make up a large percentage, statistically.

“I don’t just look at (graduation rates) — there are many different data points we consider. Obviously, we want every student to graduate or receive a certificate of completion, whatever is appropriate. But this is positive,” White said.

CEPI calculates graduation rates by tracking enrollment records of individual students from the time they first enroll as ninth-graders, the organization stated. This method, along with concerted efforts by CEPI, administrators and auditors, accounts for every student, they claim.

Evart Superintendent Shirley Howard could not be reached for comment.

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Posted by Tim Rath

Tim is the Pioneer's associate editor. He also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Veterans pages. He can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at trath@pioneergroup.com.

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