A lower percentage of Kokomo High students graduated in 2017 compared to 2016. However, there were successes, particularly with students learning English.

The Kokomo School Corp. saw decreases in each student group measured by the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE), with a rate of 79 percent of the class of 2017 graduating. Last year, 82.4 percent of students graduated.

Kokomo High actually saw a higher percentage of their students graduate, but they were not able to provide certain documents to the IDOE to show that some students should not have been included in the graduating class for various reasons, including moves out of state, according to officials.

Mike Sargent, assistant superintendent of secondary education for the Kokomo School Corp., said they expect to see the graduation rate go back up for 2018 because they will provide all the necessary documentation for students no longer attending Kokomo High School.

Even with decreases across the board, the school has a history of students doing well who are either learning English or did not grow up with it as their first language. These students are referred to as English Language Learners (ELL).

In 2016, the school saw 100 percent of ELL seniors graduate. For 2017, 85.71 percent of these students graduated, with only two failing to earn their diplomas. This group does not include students who are now fluent in English. Each year, students test to determine their level of English competency.

Dorothea Irwin, assistant superintendent of elementary education for the district, said they encourage teachers to take training each year on how to work with ELL students. Once these students reach high school, they can take a class for credit where they work to learn English.

Though many children started with the district at an early age, others joined the Kokomo district either in middle school or high school. These students may face more challenges when it comes to learning English, which in many instances is crucial to getting through high school and earning a diploma, school officials say.

These challenges aren’t all related to homework, Sargent said, and the district tries to help these students in any way they can. For instance, they assist them with athletic and extracurricular forms, try to help them understand the layout of the school and understand the culture of a U.S. high school environment.

They also try to provide a solid support base for students, between the English class at the high school and study groups for English Language Learners.

Haydee Mas, who teaches the English class for students learning English as a second language, said she develops an individualized plan for each student and sends it to that student’s teachers so they can understand their challenges and needs.

The biggest challenges most of her students face are reading, writing and comprehending English, she said. She found that pictures can help students understand and communicate, so she created keychains with picture cards showing some of the most basic things students might need throughout the school day, such as the restroom, their locker or the nurse.

“Haydee is a huge resource for the teachers and the kids,” said high school Principal Angela Blessing. “The teachers have really come to rely on her expertise. … She’s very, very helpful on what she has found and sharing it with the staff.”

At the end of the day, though, sometimes students are facing an uphill battle when it comes to earning a high school diploma in an unfamiliar language. While the district saw 100 percent of their English Language Learners graduate in 2016, two did not graduate in 2017.

“Comprehension could be a huge obstacle to overcome,” Sargent said.

Even so, the Kokomo School Corp. saw a higher success rate than the state, where only 60.74 percent of English Language Learners graduated in 2016.

Three Howard County districts saw higher graduation rates compared to last year. Taylor, Northwestern and Western all saw improvement.

Taylor High School saw 85.14 percent of the class of 2017 graduate. The school saw success with general education students and those receiving free or reduced priced lunches.

They also saw a decrease in the percentage of special education graduates, but the difference came down to just a few students.

Northwestern High School saw a slight increase, with 98.43 percent of their seniors graduating last year as opposed to 97 percent the previous year. The school saw increases in general education students and those receiving free and reduced priced lunches graduating.

Western High School also saw a slight increase from 96.3 percent to 97.25 percent. The school saw improvement with paid-lunch students and special education students, but slight decreases with those receiving free and reduced priced lunches.

Eastern High School saw a slight decrease in its graduation rate from 2016, from 98.9 to 96.88 percent. One-hundred percent of students receiving free and reduced priced lunches and general education students graduated in 2017, and 96.67 percent of special education students in the class graduated.

Education Reporter Caele Pemberton can be reached at 765-454-8587, by email at caele.pemberton@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @CaelePemberton.

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Caele Pemberton covers education. She joined the Kokomo Tribune May 31, 2016.