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Four-year graduation rates down for county schools

Published 11:08pm Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The rate of students graduating from Beaufort County’s public schools in four years dropped in 2012 from the previous year, according to figures released by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
Despite this drop, the rate of students graduating from the county’s public schools in five years in 2012 climbed from the previous year and approaches the statewide five-year graduation rate, according to the report.
These findings mean that, although it may take local students longer to earn a high-school diploma than others in the state, more local students ultimately succeed in graduating from high school, according to Beaufort County School Superintendent Don Phipps.
“We may keep them a little bit longer, but they’re graduating,” he said.
The findings also indicate that the county’s public schools are working harder to lure those students who drop out short of graduation back to school to earn high-school diplomas, he said.
The district’s four-year graduation rate dropped to 71.9 percent in 2012, down from 75.7 percent in 2011, according to the report. But the district’s five-year graduation rate rose to 80.5 percent in 2012 from 75.4 percent the year before.
Statewide, 80.2 percent of students who started ninth grade in 2008-09 completed high school in four years or less. This is up from the 2011 rate of 77.9 percent. Statewide the five-year graduation rate for students who entered ninth grade in 2007-08 rate was 81.1 percent, up from the five-year rate for the 2006-07 ninth graders of 77.7 percent.
Southside High School was the only school in the district to see an increase in its four-year graduation rate in 2012 over the previous year. Its graduation rate rose from 81 percent to 81.4 percent, according to the report.
However, the five-year graduation rate at the school dropped from 84.8 percent in 2011 to 83.9 percent in 2012, according to the report.
The four-year graduation rates dropped at three of the district’s four remaining high schools — the Beaufort County Ed Tech Center and Northside and Washington high schools
The fourth high school, Beaufort County Early College High School, a learn-and-earn school based at Beaufort County Community College, will begin its fifth year of operation this week and was not included in the report. A student at that school is expected to earn a high-school diploma and an associate degree from BCCC in five years.
The four-year graduation rate at the Beaufort County Ed Tech Center was 61.3 percent in 2012, down from a 65 percent graduation rate the year before. The five-year graduation rate at the school, however, saw the greatest increase of any of the county’s public schools. It climbed from 40 percent in 2011 to 70 percent in 2012, according to the report.
The four-year graduation rate at Northside High School dropped from 85.6 percent in 2011 to 82.9 percent in 2012. The school’s five-year graduation rate, however, rose from 85.7 percent in 2011 to 86.4 percent in 2012, according to the report.
At Washington High School, the four-year graduation rate dropped from 76.5 percent in 2011 to 70.1 percent in 2012. The five-year graduation rate at the school, however, rose from 74.3 percent in 2011 to 82.3 percent in 2012, according to the report.
Since 2002, local school districts have been accounting for each ninth-grade student as he or she moves through high school. This recordkeeping provides the state with an accurate count of how many students graduate with a diploma in four years. Because some students may need a fifth year to earn their high-school diploma, a five-year rate also is recorded.
Gov. Beverly Perdue and state school leaders highlighted results showing high school graduation rates that for the first time topped 80 percent, up from 70 percent five years ago.
“Every child needs a high school diploma to compete, and that’s just the first step up the ladder,” Perdue said. “None of us are proud of 80 percent, but wow, it’s a good day, a great way forward for North Carolina.”
Last year, 78 percent of students earned diplomas four years after entering high school, a result that ranked North Carolina squarely in the middle of U.S. states, Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said. It’s too soon to know how North Carolina ranks this year, she said.
The improving graduation rate statewide immediately became a question of whether North Carolina’s schools were doing better despite recession-era funding cuts that have forced schools to hire fewer teachers even as enrollments increased. About 1.5 million students attend the state’s public schools.
“We haven’t had the type of fiscal support that we should have had for the last couple of years,” state school board chairman Bill Harrison said. “And there is great poverty in this state, regardless of what members of the General Assembly seem to think. There are kids who are in need.”
State House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, praised students, parents and school staff and downplayed the role of funding.
“Our graduation rate shows that improving our education system is not simply a matter of dollars and cents,” Tillis said in a statement. “We must continue to give superintendents, principals and teachers more flexibility and ensure that education is driven by factors inside the classroom rather than by distant administrations and political rhetoric.”
The Associated Press contributed material to this report.

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