Most Wayne County schools leaders are expressing pride about their Class of 2023 graduation rates.
However, some frustration simmers among some board members and administrators about how those rates can be affected by factors outside schools’ control.
According to Indiana Department of Education data, nearly every Wayne County high school showed a graduation rate of 93% or higher.
Seton Catholic High School, a private institution, had the county’s highest percentage because all 24 of its seniors graduated.
Northeastern has the highest district percentage at 97.94%.
Despite having a capped graduation rate, Richmond High School led the county’s individual public schools at 98.3% when the district’s alternative Community Youth Services is not included. When CYS is included, Richmond Community Schools has a 95.52% rate.
RHS and RCS’ percentages are lower than the Class of 2023 cohort size indicates because state law limits the number of waivers that count toward a school’s graduation rate. If RHS’ 237 graduates out of its cohort of 239 were all counted, the school would have a 99.16% grad rate.
Statewide, 88.98% of Indiana students in the Class of 2023 graduated, an increase of nearly 2.5 percentage points, according to Indiana Department of Education.
A year ago, Hagerstown Jr.-Sr. High School’s graduation rate topped all Wayne County schools, at 98.88% — only one senior did not graduate.
This year, HJSHS ranked lower than all Wayne County schools, at 84.42%.
“Our graduation rate this year has taken a significant dip. There are several factors working against the school that impact our graduation rate, including transient students, student attendance, and factors that fall beyond the schools control,” said Nettle Creek School Superintendent Emily Schaeffer.
Twelve of 77 students in the senior cohort did not graduate in 2023.
Western Wayne News asked Schaeffer to explain the year-to-year difference. She said students who enrolled elsewhere or withdrew to home schooling were still counted as members of the HJSHS senior cohort even though they were no longer enrolled at the school.
- A student transferred to a private school. HHS has documentation of enrollment in the private school. Private schools do not report to the IDOE, therefore the student is counted as a non-graduate.
- Some students moved out of the school district, across state or out of state. Although Nettle Creek has received communication from other schools regarding their attempt to enroll, enrollment was never reported to the IDOE. Multiple communications to the families or students to verify enrollment in another school were never returned.
- Multiple students were withdrawn to home-school by a parent or guardian, but never registered a homeschool number with the Indiana Department of Education.
“We are seeing more students than ever who enroll in several school corporations within one school year due to a multitude of reasons. Students will move into the Nettle Creek School district, only attend for a few months, have a high absences rate, and/or have little high school credits, then move into another school district. This makes it very challenging for the school to support completion of graduation requirements when students are not in school,” Schaeffer wrote in an email. “Our statistics support a high graduation rate of students who start their education at Nettle Creek and even students who start their high school career at Nettle Creek.”
In response, the Nettle Creek schools board revised its transfer policy last year. School administrators now can review attendance records, historical grades and discipline before accepting enrollment of students who live outside of the Nettle Creek district.
“Our graduation rate was tremendous this year,” Andy Stover, Western Wayne Schools superintendent, said.
As with other small high schools, a difference of one or two students not graduating can make a huge difference in the graduation percentage. Still, Lincoln High School’s rate for the Class of 2023 is above the state average.
“At 93.44%, only four kids in our cohort did not graduate,” Stover said. Those, he said, were mainly because of parents choosing to withdraw their students from school.
He said the school makes a concentrated effort to get students to successful graduation.
“I myself and the principal (Renee Lakes) sit with all of the graduating seniors (as juniors and again as seniors) and ask what they want to do post-school. Then we help guide them into opportunities to meet those desires,” whether postsecondary education or vocational. “If any of them want to go into the workforce, we make those phone calls” to set up career opportunities “to get kids into real life, real world situations.”
He said insisting on academic rigor helps LHS students. “Every year, we do documentation of student achievement that helps us do better,” he said. “I think our graduation rate will remain where it’s at (for 2024) or better.”
He believes that not only the school faculty and staff but also community support helps get students to finish high school.
Communities in Schools of Wayne County provides a case worker at LHS who provides positive assistance all year. If kids are having problems, CIS steps in and helps find resources.
He also credited tutoring provided by the staff at the Wayne Bank Boys and Girls Club unit and the programs for younger children provided by the Richmond Family YMCA.
With one of the highest graduation rates for public schools in Wayne County, Northeastern Wayne School Superintendent Matthew Hicks says, “I really commend our faculty. It’s a team effort from K to 12. And our high school faculty is a veteran faculty, really focused on getting students to graduate.”
Northeastern graduated 95 of the 97 students in its senior cohort, or 97.94%.
“Like the rest of schools in the county, a lot of kids did not come back after the (COVID) pandemic and in a lot of cases, they turned 18 and so we can’t force them to come back,” Hicks said.
A credit recovery program at the high school is designed to help students who get behind in the credits toward graduation. Such students are allowed to take an additional class each semester to try to catch up. Credit recovery is also offered in summer school.
“Our counselors are very intentional in getting students into those classes if they need it,” Hicks said.
Community support groups are also helpful. He mentioned Community in Schools of Wayne County, which provides an aide at NHS. Communities in Schools facilitates bringing adult volunteers into the school.
“Oftentimes, kids need an adult at the school to mentor them,” Hicks said. “It’s good for our kids to see successful adults.”
Centerstone and Meridian Health also provide assistance, particularly to students who are frequently absent.
“Oftentimes, lack of attendance is an indicator of other problems” at home or outside of school, Hicks said.
Overall, Centerville Senior High School Principal Tim Hollendonner said he is pleased with the Class of 2023’s performance.
“We are significantly better than the state average and have been consistently above 90% for many years,” Hollendonner said. “This is something we pride ourselves on here at Centerville. Providing a quality education that focuses on critical thinking, practical experiences and challenging instruction.”
Hollendonner said he believes educators are still facing the ripple effects of the pandemic.
“High school students were at a critical part in their education at the time COVID-19 hit,” he said.
For instance, CSHS is now seeing challenges in reading and writing in grades 9-12. Teachers will continue to focus on students’ reading comprehension but are adding an emphasis on increasing writing competency too.
And, Hollendonner sees more students wanting to enroll in other institutions such as the Excel Center and homeschool curricula. Those programs implement more online learning, “which we have seen is more of a convenience for them than traditional schooling,” he said.
Centerville is continuing to use its Early Warning and Monitoring System (EWIMS) for its struggling/credit deficient students. That program identifies students based on “flags” such as attendance, credits, behavior, math and English/language arts grades.
Hollendonner said school employees make every effort to get tutoring for students or help with the management of their classes, and said he appreciates CACS’ dedicated staff who provide additional opportunities for students to receive tutoring.
CACS also uses ALEKS, a math remediation platform for all students that provides additional exercises to complete other than their class math assignments, along with iXL for English/language arts. English teachers implement lessons through iXL that give students opportunities to improve certain skills with their curricula. Both programs have devoted homeroom time as well.
Hollendonner said Communities in Schools makes a difference in CSHS’s graduation rate. The school’s CIS liaison helps with the early warning/monitoring system and assigns tutors.
In addition, CIS helps with needs such as school supplies, hygiene products and accessibility. Hollendonner is grateful for CIS’ assistance with “all of the little things that have a huge impact on a student’s ability to get to school, focus while they are here and complete assignments.”
Richmond Community Schools continues to be proud of Richmond High School’s graduation rate, said Principal Rae Ferriell-Woolpy.
She said RHS has “definitely” moved past the 2007 “dropout factory” label from a national analysis by Johns Hopkins University. RHS has had a consistent graduation rate of more than 90% for the past 10 years.
Richmond’s graduation rate has an asterisk on the state data spreadsheet.
According to Molly Williams, deputy director of communications for Indiana Department of Education, Indiana code limits the number of alternate diplomas that can count toward a high school’s or school corporation’s state graduation rate to 1% of the cohort.
In RHS’ cohort of 239 students, if five students received an alternate diploma, only two of those students can statutorily count toward the graduation rate, Williams said.
The Indiana Alternate Diploma is a standards-based certificate that is intended for students with significant cognitive disabilities.
For a student to be awarded an alternate diploma, a case conference committee determines this path is appropriate, as indicated in the student’s Individualized Education Program, and the student must have participated in the statewide alternate assessment program, I AM.
Indiana State Board of Education approved amendments to graduation requirements to establish the alternate diploma in January 2023, Williams said.
Ferriell-Woolpy said she believes the majority of local families and employers are emphasizing the value of a diploma.
She sees the biggest barrier to graduation being school attendance.
“If students don’t attend school on a regular basis then they do not earn credits to graduate and fall behind in their subjects,” Ferriell-Woolpy said.
She notes that the residual effects of the pandemic on learning loss are still evident by the number of waivers for Pathway completion.
RHS has implemented many initiatives and efforts to ensure that all students graduate, she said. One example is meeting with all juniors and seniors who are at risk of not graduating to make a plan to complete their Pathway for graduation.
RHS also has implemented a ninth grade course to help with the transition to RHS, and students can be placed in one of three alternative programs if needed.
Educators are also focusing on attendance protocols with more communication to students and parents/guardians, along with Attendance Intervention Meetings.
Ferriell-Woolpy said administrators and teachers are using data to drive their focus on what needs to be done to improve.
Professional development is being provided to inform teachers about instructional strategies that increase student engagement and student achievement, and brain research related to taking care of students’ social emotional needs so they can learn.
Ferriell-Woolpy encourages the community and employers to keep emphasizing good school attendance. She’s grateful for Wayne County Chamber of Commerce and many businesses such as Wetzel Automotive Group that contribute to the chamber’s School is Cool attendance prizes.
“It takes a community effort to raise each child to graduate!” she said.
State at a glance
Statewide, graduation rates increased for several groups from 2022 to 2023, according to IDOE.
Those improvements included:
- Students receiving free and reduced price meals — from 83.74% in 2022 to 88.74% in 2023. (Students whose meals weren’t discounted or free graduated at a 92.51% rate).
- Black students — from 77.52% to 82.43%
- Hispanic students — from 83.86% to 86.41%
- English learners — from 85.60% to 87.72%
- Students in special education — from 76.39% to 83.24%. (General education students graduated at a 92.19% rate.)
Other notable comparisons:
Public school students graduated at an 88.8% rate, compared to 91.97% of nonpublic schools.
However, numbers differed greatly between two different kinds of public schools. Just more than half of public charter school seniors graduated (2,966 of 5,386, or 55.07%), while traditional public schools graduated 91.29%, or 66,496, of their 72,839 seniors.
Just more than half of charter school seniors graduated (2,966 of 5,386, or 55.07%).
Females had a higher likelihood of graduating, at a 90.67% rate, compared to males, at 87.33%.
Because of differences between federal and state accountability equations and standards, IDOE also released 2023 federal graduation rates. In 2023, Indiana’s federal graduation rate was 87.52%.
For additional statewide or school-level data, visit in.gov/doe/it/data-center-and-reports.
A version of this article appeared in the January 24 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.