The graduation rate at Harlan County High School is expected to take a dramatic jump this year following adjustments made in the calculation method.
After several years of frustration with state and federal education agencies over how the previous method unfairly penalized districts with declining populations, county school officials were encouraged by the changes.
Though the graduation rate had been slowly increasing since the advent of the new high school, an increase of more than 10 percentage points was a pleasant surprise.
Three years ago, the graduation rate was 62.8 percent. Last year it was 71.6 percent. Preliminary reports show the rate for 2013 will be 81.7 percent, probably an all-time high in the county.
“With the graduation rate accounting for 20 percent of a school’s score under the state’s Unbridled Learning Accountability model, this new measure puts us in good shape on that part of it,” Brent Roark, assistant superintendent, told the board of education during a recent special meeting.
Previously, graduation rates had been calculated based on the percentage of freshmen who graduated four years later, but it only counted if they finished from the same school they entered. No adjustment was made for transfers to nearby districts or for those who moved away from the district, not even for those who moved out of state.
Now, by using what Roark termed “a cohort model,” those sorts of issues are figured into the calculation and the rate no longer penalizes districts for a circumstance largely outside their control.
Roark also briefly discussed recent test scores, pointing to commendable performances by schools and students, as the district exceeded state averages across the board in the eighth grade EXPLORE scores.
While high school PLAN scores remain below state averages in every category, Roark noted the school is only held accountable for improving student performance in two subject areas, reading and math. The “growth” component in that measure of accountability is determined between the time they take the tenth grade PLAN test and the ACT, which is taken during the next year.
“The potential for student growth from the PLAN to the ACT is still very viable given our current scores,” Roark said.
The board recognized the achievement of 22 middle school students during the meeting. The central office conference room was full of students, parents and family as the board officially noted those students who achieved perfect scores on the EXPLORE test.
“It’s an honor for us to recognize these students,” said Superintendent Mike Howard. When he added, “I’d just as soon see this as see our students win a state championship,” the room filled with applause.
Later, during a discussion of various school trips before them for approval, board members again discussed potential changes needed to the policy regarding those excursions.
Many school principals and teachers advocate for pleasure and educational trips as a valuable experience and an incentive for students, many of whom may not get the opportunity to visit a major city or see the ocean, they say.
Board members remain concerned by the abuses of the travel privilege that have occurred over the years and by the perception of increased safety issues where students are concerned, especially on overnight trips.
Board Attorney Johnnie Turner said the policy could be written in any way to comply with their wishes without discriminating against any individual, group or school, but cautioned the board members about putting themselves in the position of “micro-managing” the issue.
In other business, the board:
• Discussed adding archery and soccer as competitive sports at all levels;
• Discussed a few facility issues at Rosspoint elementary, including an ongoing problem of water infiltration;
• Accepted the superintendent’s employment report of four certified employments, one retirement and one transfer, as well as two classified employments and one retirement;
• Approved the audit for the school year 2011-2012;
• Approved payment of $1,751.14 to Sports Edge for materials for the HCHS football field;
• Approved payment of claims totaling $568,970.50;
• Approved payment of $13,461.54 to Ash Mountain Inc. for work completed on the Harlan County High School football field;
• Approved payment to various vendors in the amount of $17,916.35 for work completed on the Harlan County High School football field;
• Approved a shortened school day for a special needs student at Cumberland Elementary School;
• Approved a medical leave of absence for a central office employee for the remainder of 2012-2013, with the leave beginning on Jan. 11, 2013;
• Approved Family/Medical Leave for a Rosspoint teacher until March 1, 2013;
• Approved the Harlan County School District Technology Plan for July 1, 2013 to Sept. 30, 2014;
• Approved Harlan County High School Winter Guard (Band flags) trip to Karns, Tenn. on March 30, 2013;
• Approved Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College Upward Bound trips for Saturdays on April 20, 2013 and May 18, 2013 and for Monday through Thursday June 10, 2013 to July 11, 2013;
• Approved Rosspoint elementary eighth grade trip to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., May 8-12, 2013;
• Approved Lease Agreement with Southeast Kentucky Community and Technology College for use of baseball field at the Cumberland campus;