The percentage of Maine students completing high school in four years is growing, according to a report released Tuesday from the Maine Department of Education.

Lewiston-Auburn schools stayed about the same, and some, including Oak Hill High School in Wales, improved, shooting above the state average.

The state average of students who entered the ninth grade in fall 2010 and graduated in 2014 is 86.48 percent, up slightly from last year’s 86.36 percent, according to the department.

Maine’s rates are higher than the national average of 81.4 percent, and the 10th highest in the country, according to the department. Also, the department said Maine is sixth in the nation for its limited English proficiency graduation rate, 12th for its economically disadvantaged student graduation rate, and 14th for its graduation rate among students with disabilities.

Acting Education Commissioner Tom Desjardin said he was encouraged to see Maine closing achievement gaps with students who are economically disadvantaged, have disabilities or are minorities.

“All children can learn and deserve equal opportunity to do so in our schools,” Desjardin said in a prepared statement. “I want to thank Maine’s educators for their hard work in supporting an increasing number of historically academically disadvantaged students find success.”

The state must continue to improve graduation rates and the value of the diplomas awarded by schools, “so every student leaves with the foundation they need to achieve their full potential,” Desjardin said.

In Lewiston, the four-year high school completion rate for the class of 2014 was 69.9 percent, the second lowest in Maine. This year’s rate is up slightly from 69.8 percent last year.

Lewiston is one of the larger school districts in Maine and has a high number of students from poor families; 71.5 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches, compared to the state average of 46.6 percent.

Lewiston’s graduation rate “is virtually unchanged from last year and the last three years,” Superintendent Bill Webster said Tuesday. Lewiston made gains in 2012 when several programs to provide intervention were created.

“But until we add more alternative programming and other supports for students, it’s going to be a real challenge to further increase the four-year high school completion rate,” Webster said

Some Lewiston students take a fifth or sixth year to graduate, including Somali students who came to Lewiston not speaking English. When adding the number of students who took a fifth year to complete high school in 2014, the percentage increased to 76.35 percent.

But overall, “we are not where we want to be,” Webster said.

The graduation rate for Edward Little High School in Auburn is 77.3 percent, down slightly from 79.4 percent last year. Fifty-four percent of Auburn students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

Auburn works to help students succeed, Superintendent Katy Grondin said. “We’re constantly monitoring our freshmen class as they move through to graduation,” she said. “It’s always a challenge, especially with students with chronic absenteeism or mental health issues.”

ELHS monitors how freshmen are doing, “and we work hard to meet with students on an ongoing basis, how to engage a child, address issues that are barriers and why they’re not attending school,” she said.

Students not finding success in high school are encouraged to work with adult education so they “don’t just drop out,” Grondin said.

As Auburn moves toward a proficiency-based high school diploma, it will help more complete high school, Grondin said. Under the new diploma, students who have missed school will more easily be able to continue where they left off, rather than repeating a whole class.

Auburn needs to do more intervention with younger students to discourage elementary students from being chronically absent, Grondin said.

In Wales, the graduation rate for Oak Hill High School jumped to 92.9, up from 81.8 percent. Superintendent Jim Hodgkin credited it to luck and planning.

Three years ago, the district looked at what other high schools with good graduation rates were doing, including Searsport.

“We put together a team who went to Searsport,” Hodgkin said. Oak Hill launched an intervention program, adopting “the notion that kids don’t have the right to fail. If they’re not getting work done,” or done well enough, students are assigned extra attention to help them improve.

“We got some push-back from parents and kids” who disagreed, Hodgkin said. “We said ‘No. We can’t move you along.'”

In Bethel, School Administrative District 44 Superintendent David Murphy said he was excited about the positive growth in Maine. Telstar Regional High School’s completion rate is 87.3, up from 82.9 last year and 81.6 percent in 2011-12. More students will succeed “as we begin the shift to a proficiency-based diploma,” Murphy said.

In Farmington, Mt. Blue Regional School District Superintendent Thomas Ward said he’s pleased Mt. Blue has increased graduation rates, that the district has found ways to provide interventions and support students.

“It has been a focus of the high school staff since we declined to 77.9 percent in 2011-12.” Ward said. The district worked to increase rates to 85.3 percent in 2013, and 88 percent in 2014.

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State goal: 90 percent by 2018

Maine introduced the current method of calculating how many students completed high school in four years in 2009. That year the percentage was, 80.3; the graduation rate has improved to 86.48 percent.

As Maine high schools shift toward proficiency-based high school diplomas in 2018, the Maine Department of Education hopes to achieve a 90 percent graduation rate.

The Class of 2014 was the smallest in recent years, down to 12,362 students from 12,792 students in 2013. That mirrors overall declining public school enrollment in Maine, according to the Maine Department of Education.

Lewiston’s growing student population, which went from 4,671 in 2004 to 5,030 in 2014, is the exception.

To see Maine high school graduation data, visit the Maine Department of Education’s online education Data Warehouse at www.maine.gov/doe/dataresources/.


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