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Drop out rate sees slight improvement

Date: 3/31/2010

March 31, 2010.

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- While Springfield Public School officials noted the slight improvement in the graduation rate, there is still much work to be done.

"Springfield Public Schools has been sharply focused on improving our graduation rate and will continue to put programs and support in place that will accelerate growth of that rate for all of our students," School Superintendent Dr. Alan Ingram said. "Graduation should be the expectation of 100 percent of our students and we cannot rest until we have significant gains towards that goal."

Figures recently released by the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education show the 2009 four-year graduation rate at 54.5 percent compared to 54.4 percent last year. The state's average graduation rate this year is 81.5 percent compared to 81.2 percent last year. In 2007, Springfield's graduation rate was 53.8 percent, compared to the state's 80.9 percent rate.

There have been areas with greater improvement. The Roger L. Putnam Vocational-Technical High School saw an increase of 13.5 percentage points and district wide, the graduation rate for Hispanic students increased from 44.9 percent last year to 47.2 percent this year.

Azell Caavan, the school system's communications officer, told Reminder Publications, "At this point, there have been only slight improvements. We can attribute this to significant improvements at Putnam where a Saturday credit recovery program was implemented last year. We are hopeful that next year will bring more significant improvements at all high schools due to our revised attendance policy, a major credit recovery initiative, a newly developed early warning indicator to help us identify those students at risk and a tiered intervention plan, as well as continued access to alternative schools and programs."

Ingram said reform efforts take three to five years to show significant results.

The first semester grades of high school students will be reviewed to spot potential issues and attendance levels will also be used an indicator.

Caavan explained the effort to retain students runs from kindergarten through grade 12. She said there is "short term emphasis on middle school and high school students. Some clear indicators of being at risk for drop out are middle school reading levels and retention of the ninth grade calling for urgent measures in those areas."

The most vulnerable groups for dropping out are ninth graders, she added, with the next most likely group being 12th graders.

"The ages may vary depending on the retention rates of the students in question; however, ninth grade is usually 15 to 16 year olds while 12th grade is usually 17 to 19 year olds," she said.

"We are trending in the right direction, but the graduation rate is a critical needs area and we must turn up the heat because urgency exists," Ingram said. "I am confident that we will see substantial improvements as we move forward."