All but one of the Howard County high schools were above the state average in the four-year graduation rates released Tuesday by the Indiana Department of Education.

Taylor High School, which graduated 69 percent of the Class of 2007 in four years, was the only county school below the state average of 76.5 percent.

Maconaquah, Peru and Lewis Cass high schools also were below the state average.

In the Kokomo area, North Miami High School had the largest gain, increasing from 84.4 percent for the Class of 2006 to 88.2 percent for the Class of 2007, for a gain of 3.8 percent.

The largest decrease in the Kokomo area was at Maconaquah High School. In 2006, 83.3 percent of the seniors graduated in four years, while only 73.7 graduated in 2007, for a loss of 9.6 percent.

Officials from Maconaquah School Corp. could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

In Howard County, Eastern’s 2007 graduation rate was 94.2 percent, up by 2.2 percent from 2006. At Kokomo High School, 77 percent of the Class of 2007 graduated, up 1.4 percent from the previous year.

Kokomo Superintendent Thomas Little Jr. said the Kokomo High School counselors have “truly stepped up in helping students deal with all the issues that they face.”

Little said even with a graduation rate above the state average, he is still concerned, because 33 percent did not graduate.

He thinks when funding is available to educate more students through the alternative school, the graduation rate will increase.

The school board approved a pilot program to increase enrollment this semester, and is in the process of consolidating schools to make funding available for the program. It also plans to fund an early education center, to meet the needs of the youngest students and prevent them from starting out behind their peers, which puts them at risk of dropping out of high school.

Northwestern High School’s graduation rate was down 1.9 percent, but Principal Tim Edsell said at 92.5 percent, it was still a good rate.

“I think any time you’re above 90 percent, I think that is a great testimony to our teachers and our students and our community and the fact there’s an expectation you’re going to get that high school diploma.”

Edsell said it’s especially good to be above 90 percent because of the new state requirements in reporting graduation rates. The Class of 2007 is the second to be reported with the new method.

From 1988 to 2004, the graduation rate was calculated by figuring out how many members of each high school grade did not drop out. The figure for each grade was then multiplied together to attain a graduation rate.

The new graduation rate calculator begins by establishing a cohort of students entering grade nine. That group expands as students move into the school and contracts as students move out. Students who are enrolled in an Indiana school for less than a year, students who are going to graduate later than expected, students who earn a GED or who die while in high school also are excluded in figuring the graduation rate.

Statewide, the four-year graduation rate increased slightly, by 0.4 percent.

At Taylor High School, Principal Eric Hartman said the school’s graduation rate is a concern, and in 2006, was the only factor that kept the school from making adequate yearly progress, according to the state accountability law.

“One thing that hurts us here at Taylor, we seem to have a higher number of students that are special education students, who are on a non-diploma track,” Hartman said. “Our data shows us that most of our students who are not able to complete the program of study in four years are special needs student.”

He said the state does not give a school credit if a non-diploma track student completes his or her course.

Hartman said the Taylor School Board has approved hiring another special education teacher, who will work with about 15 special needs students who are struggling with their classes.

He said student mobility also is a factor for Taylor.

Hartman said there are five or six students who should have graduated in 2007 who are still at Taylor, and if they graduate this year, they will be reflected in the 2008 graduation rate.

According to the Indiana Department of Education, 66 percent of the state’s public high schools met or exceeded the state average, but rates varied considerably.

About half of high schools graduated more than 80 percent of their seniors classes, while 15.1 percent graduated more than 90 percent of their students in four years.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Suellen Reed said state and national data show that students from low-income families, as well as black, Hispanic and Limited English Proficient students are significantly less likely to graduate than their peers. Indiana high schools with the highest percentages of these student populations generally had the lowest graduation rates statewide.

“Like many of the most pressing challenges in our education system, high school graduation rates reflect larger, societal issues that extend far beyond the classroom,” Reed said. “Schools clearly have a crucial role to play, but success greatly depends on the extent to which local communities are engaged in the struggle.”

Danielle Rush may be reached at (765) 454-8585 or via e-mail at danielle.rush@kokomotribune.com

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