Four-year graduation rates, which have become important yardsticks to measure a school’s success, show Edward Little High School’s Class of 2016 from Auburn had a rate of 72.9 percent.

That is down from the prior year’s 80 percent.

In Lewiston, the four-year graduation rate is 68.9 percent, the same as the year before.

Statewide numbers aren’t available for 2016; in 2015 the state graduation rate was 87.5 percent.

L-A educators say they’re working to improve the rates, but the numbers don’t paint an accurate picture of student success. The numbers leave a lot out.

They leave out Nicole Buck, 19, a fifth-year student at Lewiston High School who has significant medical challenges, including Arnold-Chiari Malformation, a malformation of the skull, and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a collection of heritable connective tissue disorders.

Since she was 6 years old, she has undergone 15 surgeries, most on her brain and spine.

“To look at her, you’d never know,” said her mother, Lisa Sawyer.

On graduation day last June, Buck was in a New York hospital bed about to undergo another surgery.

“It was an emotional time for her,” her mother said.

This year, she is taking online courses and doing independent study to complete her high school education.

Buck said she doesn’t have control of her medical problems, but she’s in control of her schooling.

“I’ve always been a good student,” Buck said.

After graduating, she plans to study nursing at college next year. Her goal is to become a nurse practitioner. Initially, she wanted to become a doctor, but her body couldn’t handle it, she said.

In addition to students with health challenges, graduation rates leave out students who have not dropped out of school but are working in a fifth year, through adult education or independent.

There are more students with needs in Lewiston-Auburn, two of the larger school districts in Maine with high poverty rates — students learning English from refugee families and transient households where parents move students in and out of schools.

Lewiston High School Principal Shawn Chabot said he’s not satisfied with his school’s graduation rates.

“It demonstrates why we believe in the variable of time and support,” Chabot said. “Some students need more time to be successful. If it takes them five years to graduate from high school, that’s OK if it gets the job done.”

But that’s not how the rates work, said Shelly Mogul, Auburn School Department curriculum director.

In the past five years, Auburn’s graduation rates have been between 77 and 80 percent. They fell in 2016 because a higher number of students than usual left the high school and entered adult education.

“That counts against us,” Mogul told the Auburn School Committee recently. “They’re considered non-completers, regardless if they completed their education on time.” 

Of the 38 Edward Little students who entered adult education last year, 17 seniors completed their high school requirements on time. If adult education was considered a viable pathway for the four-year completion rates, then Auburn’s percentage would have been 79 percent, “where it normally is,” Mogul said.

The dropout rates, which are not the same because they count students in grades 7-12, are not available for 2016. Mogul said students who left the high school for adult education are also considered dropouts, “so our rate will be higher this year.”

Auburn Superintendent Katy Grondin said adult education graduates are successes; some end up at adult education because they’ve fallen behind in school and are discouraged, or because of scheduling conflicts with jobs. Many have had trauma or hardships to overcome.

Grondon spoke of one man she knew as a freshman who struggled in school and ended up in adult education.

Now she sees him working at a local business.

“He’s thriving,” Grondin said. Even though an adult ed diploma isn’t counted in the completion rates, “do you say that’s not being career and college ready?” Grondin asked. “I would argue with that.”

While a fifth year or adult education should be counted as success, Lewiston-Auburn administrators say they’re working to do more to help struggling students, that the  struggle starts early.

Of the Auburn students who didn’t graduate within four years, 76 percent failed at least one class during their freshman year, Mogul said.

Edward Little Principal Scott Annear listed a number of efforts his school is doing to help students graduate on time, such as more mentoring and support to ensure they don’t fall behind.

One of Lewiston’s new efforts is Star Academy, a program for ninth-graders who didn’t do well as eighth-graders. The program provides more individual instruction and blends eighth- and ninth-grade learning in one year, Chabot said.

“We hope that will help long term,” he said.  

Submitted photo. Nicole Buck, 19, is on track to graduate this June from Lewiston High School. She among a group of students who needed a fifth year. Buck, who plans to go to college next year to study nursing, has serious health challenges.

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