Local high schools well above state average for graduation rates

SOUTH MADISON — The Indiana Department of Education released 2016 state graduation rates recently, and Pendleton Heights and Lapel high schools scored well above the state average.

The rates are important because they show the percentage of students passing through a school and ultimately earning a diploma. The rate also is used to help calculate a school’s letter grade, which in turn is a factor in teacher evaluations.

Lapel’s graduation rate was 95.7 percent last year, while Pendleton Heights’ rate was 92.7 percent.

In 2016, Indiana’s graduation rate was 89.07 percent.

Pendleton Heights Principal Mark Hall said he and his staff take graduation rates seriously.

“Essentially, they represent a fine line between student achievement and holding students accountable,” Hall said.

The 92.7 percent graduation rate represents a 2.7 percentage point increase from 2015.

Having students graduate is the No. 1 goal, Lapel Senior High Principal Chad Kemerly said.

“Obviously, we want them to be college- and career-ready,” he noted.

Guidance counselors start from Day 1, when the students come in as freshmen, to make sure they get on track and stay on track throughout high school.

Frankton-Lapel Schools has a graduation rate goal of 100 percent each year. Kemerly said it’s tough to achieve the mark because just one or two students dropping out can really hurt a rate.

Kemerly has been the principal at Lapel for the past four years and said the graduation rate has hovered around 95 percent for several years.

If educators see a student struggling in English, counselors immediately try to get the student help.

“It’s kind of an indicator for us there might be problems in the future,” Kemerly said. “If a student is struggling in English with the reading and language skills, there is a good chance they will struggle elsewhere.”

At Pendleton Heights, Hall is proud the high school is well above the state average. He said it’s important to note the state goal for all high schools in Indiana is 90 percent.

Schools hitting that mark or higher receive full credit toward their overall school grade each year.

Educators said it’s very difficult to meaningfully compare year-to-year or school-to-school graduation rates because of the many variables present in each individual graduating class.

Some of the variables include the number of special education students, number of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, the number of students who have passed their ISTEP+ tests, and the number of students who qualify for and are granted a graduation waiver.

Hall doesn’t think it’s good practice to judge a school on any single indicator, but having a good graduation rate is a positive sign.

The school grade process in Indiana for high schools takes into account student performance on ISTEP+ tests, college and career readiness, and grade rates. This, Hall said, provides a somewhat clearer picture on how well a school is performing.

As it does each year, Pendleton Heights has identified students in jeopardy of not graduating. The guidance counselors have met with each of those students and their parents and developed a plan for them to earn a diploma.

“We monitor those students and assist them as much we can, but ultimately it is up to the student to earn their diploma,” Hall said.

Kemerly attributes many factors into a high school having a high graduation rate, including the community, parents, educators and students.

“It’s just a combination of what Lapel is all about,” Kemerly said. “Everyone understands the priority.”

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Kristy Deer is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3262 or kdeer@greenfieldreporter.com.