Martinez, in his first year as superintendent, revealed that the district has a 69 percent graduation rate, a 1 percent decrease from a year ago. Martinez said the one percent decrease shows stabilization in the district, but there are still challenges ahead for Washoe County.
“We have 55 percent of our eighth-grade students proficient in reading heading into high school. We still have to play catch up almost every year and that is why every year we have a low number who are on track to graduate,” Martinez said. “Every percentage point is going to be that much tougher to get because once you get a high rate, especially in the high-poverty areas, you have to work that much harder to reach those students.”
The overall graduation rate has climbed from 63 percent in 2010 to 69 percent in 2012, with Damonte Ranch, Galena, Reno and McQueen high schools all achieving 80 percent or higher, according to the WCSD. The school that saw the biggest spike in the past year was Wooster, jumping 16 percentage points and holding a 75 percent graduation rate for 2012.
Wooster Principal Leah Keuscher said the school’s use of programs such as the “Gear Up Grant,” the International Baccalaureate and several re-engagement programs helped Wooster retain more students.
“Those (programs) are so helpful because if we have a student, with our cohort grad rate, who drops out we can’t just say that student is off our focus,” Keuscher said. “We have to go find that student and find ways to get them back in the classroom.”
The cohort accountability system has been in place since the 2008-09 school year. Graduation rates are calculated by the number of students who enter WCSD as freshmen and finish, within the district, in four years. The rate also factors in students who transfer to WCSD and their ability to graduate within four years, according to WCSD Director of Research and Accountability Ben Hayes.
“We calculate the number of students who have their diploma in hand, have all their credits and curriculum and have passed all four sections of the proficiency exam when they walk across the stage,” Hayes said, adding that his department faces certain upcoming challenges. “Now we are stabilizing a little bit and we can reflect and see what we can do to dig a little deeper. We have to study exactly where we are losing kids. We have gotten good at tracking students over the past couple years and we know it’s the math and science they have a tougher time with. More than anything it’s making a relationship with those kids so they stay in that system. Students can get disengaged and they give up hope.”
Reed High School has been implementing programs to help aid students who are may not be on track to graduate but are close to fulfilling the requirements. Principal Mary Vesco said offering free weekend credit recovery programs and tutoring sessions are some of the ways her staff is attempting to raise its current 77 percent graduation rate.
“We offer Saturday sessions in math and science and we have a boot camp two days before the test to help them prepare,” Vesco said. “We also hold a three-week summer session that is free to students to help them recover some of their credits and we are trying to get funding for a program called ‘A+’ that will allow students to work from home during the summer and be monitored by teachers.”
Vesco said Reed, and other schools in the district, face several obstacles in boosting the graduation rate. Special Education students, according to Vesco, receive an adjusted diploma at graduation if they are able to complete all of their credit requirements but are unable to pass the proficiency exam. The adjusted diploma does not count toward the cohort graduation rate.
“As a principal you’re frustrated at how hard these students and teachers work to obtain those diplomas, yet they are basically unaccounted for in the graduation rate,” she said.
Vesco added that students who leave high school and seek a General Education Development (GED) certification hurts the graduation rate.
Spanish Springs High School Principal Tasha Fuson has seen the graduation rate at her school change dramatically since 2009, climbing from 66 percent to its current 79 percent. She said the adjusted diploma for Special Education students is not the only factor hurting the graduation rates.
“Adjusted diplomas look like drop outs and they’re really not,” Fuson said. “We have maybe 15 to 20 students who come back and graduate after a fifth year, but nobody sees that because of the adjusted diploma. So what if it took them one extra year. We want to help them succeed, no matter how many years it takes, whether or not we get the credit, because it is good for the kids and the state to advance their education as much as possible.”
Fuson said her staff’s pursuit of raising the graduation rate will be focusing on cutting down the number of “vanished” students, which are those who have transferred out of the district but WCSD is unable to locate the student’s new district. She said parent involvement is one way the school can engage students and families, helping to keep them in the district.
“Getting the families involved helps push the kids to make the best decisions. They have to think beyond the four years of high school,” she said. “We want parents to know across the district there are options and supports in place for them. We work very hard to engage the community and I am always surprised that they don’t always have that knowledge. It’s not too late for anyone to come back and we cannot stress enough how important it is, especially in this economy.”
WCSD Statistics Breakdown
Overall graduation rate: 69 percent
Number of students graduated/total in cohort: 3117 / 4509
Number of Honors/Advanced diplomas: 1007 (22%) / 504 (11%)
Highest/lowest ranking school: Galena (87%) / Hug (51%)
Number of students on track to graduate in 12th grade:
Last year 4,250 (56%)
This year 4,300 (56%)
Sparks High grad rate: 64%