Superintendent addresses declining graduation rate

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Until a school district has a 100% graduation rate, improvements in systems for educating students will be needed, says Rome school district Superintendent Peter C. Blake regarding Rome Free Academy’s 2019 graduation rate which halted a trend of increases.

Blake said Thursday that long-ranging data indicates “students in Rome are committed to graduating and...the school district is committed to helping them graduate, whether it takes four years or more.”

Blake further commented “until a school district can reach a graduation rate of 100%, there are improvements to be made. As long as one student is not graduating, then there are deficiencies in our systems and we will continue to work to ensure that all students within our community have access to education and the ability to graduate.”

RFA’s 2019 graduation rate including summer graduates late August was 78%, as included in statewide data announced Thursday by the state Education Department; the results included 339 students who entered ninth grade in 2015. It was down from the 2018 rate of 85%, which had been part of a steady year-to-year increase from the 2014 rate of 76%.

Blake was asked whether changes in the Rome district’s summer school education program in the past two years may have affected the 2019 graduation rate. The district in summer 2018 launched a streamlined summer school program for secondary-grade levels that was reduced from prior years; it included an academic recovery and Regents review program through an online basis, with students using computers at the school, compared to prior academic summer school programs that included classroom instruction.

Two RFA students received diplomas last August following the summer academic credit program. RFA’s previous summer graduates in recent years had included 14 in 2014; nine in 2015; 17 in 2016; 14 in 2018.

However, Blake said “graduating in summer school is less about the programming and more about student attendance.” He commented “summer graduation rates hinge more upon a student’s desire to complete their diploma that year” rather than to come back for an entire new school year.

Blake noted “we can’t force people to attend school so we are heavily reliant on the desire of the student to finish high school, relative to summer school.” Last year, “fewer students opted to attend the program, causing a decline in summer graduates,” he added.

In another graduation rate consideration, Blake said “the state continues to shift their graduation statistical formulas and from one year to the next, it’s becoming difficult to compare.” He explained the state has adjusted formulas involving four-year, five-year and six-year graduation rates, and “they do not use consistent data inputs for each of the formulas making it difficult to compare.”

The state data calculates additional school graduation rates that include students who were in their fifth or sixth year of high school, respectively, beyond the typical four years of high school.

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