OXFORD — School officials say if they have their way, all students will graduate.

But recent graduation statistics, on the surface, suggest the Oxford Hills School District staff has its work cut out.

“It is our intention to have all students graduate, and we’ll continue to work on interventions and supports to students and families to help them meet this goal,” said District Curriculum Director Kathy Elkins.

The Maine Department of Education released the 2008-2009 graduation rates several weeks ago, and for the first time used a new federally mandated method for calculating the graduation rate. According to the numbers, which look at students who graduated in 2009, the Oxford Hills School District had a 69.2 percent graduation rate.

School officials said that rate would have risen to 76 percent if the state had used the previous calculation method and included students who took five years to graduate.

School officials said the new formula only counts students who graduate in four years or less and only students who entered ninth grade at the same time. The old formula was based on all students who graduated in a particular year regardless of when they started high school, according to information from Department of Education officials, who said the purpose of the federal requirement is to use the same method in all states and to provide more consistency in reporting and comparisons between states.

School officials said the good news is that they project the 2010 cohort to have a graduation rate for students enrolled four years of about 81.75 percent, said Elkins. Elkins said the higher projected graduation rate is due in part to more cautious reporting (such as removing exchange, part-time and home-schooled students from the cohort because they lack coursework for the Oxford Hills School District high school graduation requirements).

Elkins said the high school educators are also making “solid progress” in their ability to identify and target specialized instruction to those students who are on the fringe.

School Superintendent Rick Colpitts told the Board of Directors recently that one of the major reasons for students dropping out or not graduating is absenteeism.

Elkins said high school officials are working hard to address the problem.

High School Principal Ted Moccia said the high school aggregate daily attendance for 2009 and 2010 is over 90 percent.

“The high school has been working on re-engaging the students by using a group of teachers, the attendance squad, to meet with students and parents of frequently absent students,” said Moccia in an e-mail response to the Sun Journal‘s question. “Certainly those students who are habitually truant or have missed a significant amount of time may be more likely to drop out because they get discouraged and give up. Interventions for those students include our alternative education programs.”

Interestingly, the dropout rate is not the inverse of the graduation rate because the dropout rate includes students in any class that drop out in a single year where the graduation rate is calculated from one cohort — the group of students who enter the ninth grade at the same time.

“If you add the graduation rate plus the dropout rate, it will not equal 100 percent,’“ Elkins said.

For example, in fiscal year 2009 the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School had 1,080 enrolled students on Oct. 1, 2008. Of these students, 34 in grades nine through 12 met the definition of a dropout at the time. By dividing 34 into 1,080, the dropout rate is 3.15 percent.

The numbers bear little correlation to each other because one measures the whole school, while the other measures only one cohort,” said Elkins.

Because the collection of graduation and dropout data can still occur after the fourth year, Elkins said all the 2010 dropouts and four-year graduate numbers will not be known until October 2011.

Colpitts recently presented a Drop-Out Prevention Committee report to the Board of Directors that outlined a series of recommendation intended to increase graduation rates.

The four recommendations by the 12-member committee of educators and school officials to improve the graduation rate included more professional development, such as learning improved methods to work with at-risk youths; establishing an adult mentoring program and a community council of groups to help support the needs of potential dropout students. Another method will be to link at-risk students with a caring adult mentor.

When asked if she felt the Oxford Hills School District will meet a 90 percent graduation rate by 2016 as currently required under Maine law, Elkins said there are too many unanswered questions to know for sure at this time.

“Maine and 47 other states across the nation are beginning to become familiar with and implement new Common Core of State Standards that were finalized on June 2,” said Elkins. “ These common performance standards have significantly higher literacy. We have not had a chance to examine the math standards in-depth at this time. New state testing is predicted to be in place starting in 2016 across the nation.”

Elkins said it will depend on how all the new standards and performance expectations impact graduation requirements.

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