Greater Portland high schools see overall rise in graduation rates

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4 schools do not meet federal standards

AUGUSTA — Public high school graduation rates remain high across southern and mid-coast Maine, although some schools are doing better than others, according to graduation data released last week by the state Department of Education.

Eight schools saw increases in the percentage of students who graduated in four years last year, while five schools experienced declines.

All but four were above the state average of 82.8 percent, which was up more than 2 percent over 2009. South Portland, Portland, Casco Bay and Morse high schools were below the state average.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires a graduation rate of 83 percent to meet the mandated adequate yearly progress for the 2009-2010 school year.

“I have such great odds with (the way the state calculates the rate),” RSU 1 Superintendent William Shuttleworth said.

Morse High School in Bath, which is in RSU 1, increased its graduation rate by a little more than 2 percent, to 80.7 percent. However, it was still below the federal benchmark.

“I think it’s designed to further a hidden agenda in Washington,” Shuttleworth said.

The state changed the way it calculates graduation rates in 2009 to meet federal requirements, but now data from years before 2009 are not comparable to current data.

The new calculations do not count students who take five or six years to graduate, or students who return to school or earn their General Educational Development certificates.

For many towns and cities, this presents challenges, because special education students who are on extended tracks or students who attend school in the district while they’re part of residential programs, such as drug treatment facilities, are counted as dropouts if they leave the area and do not enroll in, or cannot be tracked to another school.

“That may be one of the reasons our numbers are not moving quite as quickly as we’d like,” South Portland Superintendent Suzanne Godin said.

While South Portland’s graduation rate was up 3.4 percent over the previous year, it still failed to meet federal requirements.

“We’re pleased with the progress we’ve made, but we still have work to do,” Godin said.

Godin said the school has had a Title I grant-funded ed tech position dedicated to students at risk of dropping out for the past four years.

“(The ed tech) works with middle and high schools students,” Godin said. “They meet with her first thing every morning. She does work completion with some students, and home visits. Then we track the students all year.”

Portland High School had the lowest graduation rate in the area, down 6.5 percent to 69.4 percent of students graduating in four years. Casco Bay High School in Portland saw its graduation rate drop nearly 9 percent last year, the biggest drop in the area, to just under 73 percent, while Deering High School saw a small increase to 83.4 percent.

Portland Superintendent James C. Morse Sr. attributed the significant drop in Casco Bay’s graduation rate to students leaving the district for other Portland schools, or moving out of district.

“Only one youngster actually dropped out,” Morse said.

However, he admitted, Portland High School dropouts have consistently been an issue.

“Our intervention strategies haven’t been as successful as we’d hoped. This is the lowest completion rate we’ve ever had,” Morse said.

He said the School Department is analyzing the data and hopes to have an evaluation ready in the next few weeks, which will help determine how best to address the problem.

In Bath, Shuttleworth said RSU 1 is working hard to change its culture.

“It used to be, kids could drop out when they were juniors and make more at (Bath Iron Works) than their teachers,” he said. “But not anymore. Technology has changed things.”

He said that the school has a goal of 100 percent graduation by 2020, and is implementing different programs, from vocational options, to online classes, to early intervention models, to make that a reality.

“We don’t want anyone to feel lost, disenfranchised or alone at Morse High School,” Shuttleworth said.

Yarmouth High School had the highest graduation rate in the area, with 97.5 percent graduating in four years. The only school of a similar size with a higher rate in the state was John Bapst in Bangor, which had a 100 percent graduation rate. Three other small Maine schools also graduated 100 percent of their students.

Yarmouth Superintendent Judy Paolucci did not respond to requests for comment.

Falmouth High School was close behind Yarmouth with 97.1, up more than 7 percent over last year.

Falmouth Superintendent Barbara Powers attributed much of the increase to the end of a girls’ transition program run by the Department of Health and Human Services, which moved from Falmouth to South Portland. When the program moved the previous year, all the students in it were counted as dropouts, she said.

Freeport High School saw the largest increase in its graduation rate in the area, up nearly 9 percent over last year.

Freeport Principal Bob Strong attributed the increase to several different programs, including the “one-to-one” Maine Learning Technology Initiative, which provides laptop computers to every student in the school, access to a new online credit recovery program and to developing more individualized graduation plans for students who may be struggling.

The teachers at Freeport High School also meet by grade level Wednesday mornings to discuss students they’ve identified as struggling and discuss ways they have tried to help those students.

“Our Board of Education has been very supportive and we’ve been able to increase staffing,” Strong said. “It’s not necessarily the materials we have, it’s the staff we have.”

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.

Graduation rates at area high schools

High School

Grad Rate 2009

Grad Rate 2010 Percent change
Brunswick 82.1% 84.2% + 2%
Cape Elizabeth 96.1% 94.7% – 1.3%
Casco Bay, Portland 81.8% 72.9% – 8.9%
Deering, Portland 83.3% 83.4% + 0.2%
Falmouth 89.7% 97.1% + 7.3%
Freeport 84.6% 93.4% + 8.8%
Greely, SAD 51 93.2% 91% – 2.2%
Morse, RSU 1 78.4% 80.7% + 2.2%
Mt. Ararat, SAD 75 84.6% 85.5% + 0.6%
Portland 75.9% 69.4% – 6.5%
Scarborough 89.4% 93.6% + 4.2%
South Portland 77.2% 80.6% + 3.4%
Yarmouth 98.5% 97.5% – 1%

 Data provided by Maine Department of Education