Johnston grad rates continue to improve

Rate at 82 percent for JHS class of 2012; town outpaces state average

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At last week’s Providence Grad Nation Summit, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT released their newest issue brief, “Improving High School Graduation Rates in Rhode Island,” which showed Johnston’s graduation rate has not only remained steady at 82 percent, but has remained higher than the state average.

Statewide, KIDS COUNT reported that the statewide graduation rate has been steadily increasing for a number of years, from 70 percent in 2007 to 77 percent for the class of 2012. Despite this increase, the issue brief also pointed out that there are still disparities. The graduation rate for English language learners (66 percent), students with disabilities (59 percent), low-income students (66 percent) and other subgroups still remain lower than their peers.

At Johnston High School, the class of 2012, which had 222 students, saw a graduation rate of 82 percent, with a 9 percent dropout rate, a 5 percent GED rate and only 4 percent of students staying in school longer than four years.

The school maintained the same graduation rate from 2011 to 2012.

Since the class of 2007, graduation rates for the state and individual districts are calculated using a cohort formula. Using state-assigned student identification numbers, the number of students who graduate with a standard diploma in four years is divided by the total number of students in the same cohort who are entering ninth grade together, taking into account any students who left or came into the school district over the four years.

“The graduation rate has been one of the main focuses at our high school,” said Superintendent Bernard DiLullo Jr. in a recent phone interview.

He explained that one of the keys to Johnston’s success has been the dedication to personalization. DiLullo said the staff at the high school does an excellent job at identifying students who are at risk of not graduating early enough that things can be turned around.

He also credited the school’s guidance counselors with being able to help students plan their courses and provide support so graduation occurs on time.

This has been a turn in the right direction for DiLullo, who recalls rates in the 60s as recent as three or four years ago. Now he believes the graduation rate will continue to improve, estimating the class of 2013 will have a graduation rate of close to 85 percent.

DiLullo also credited the students for driving their own success. “I believe the majority are motivated,” said DiLullo of his students. “We try to provide support.”

KIDS COUNT provided a list of warning signs that should be monitored to prevent students from making the choice to drop out of school. The report says making that decision is a long process, and warning signs include reading below grade level at the end of grade 3, poor course performance, an ongoing pattern of absenteeism or tardiness, multiple suspensions and other behavioral problems. During the academic year 2011-2012, 1,867 high school students dropped out, along with 204 seventh- and eighth-graders.

Although there is no Rhode Island-based data, KIDS COUNT reported that nationwide, pregnant or parenting students, students in foster care, students in the juvenile justice system and homeless or runaway students are also more likely to drop out.

Looking to the future, DiLullo is hopeful to see the success of a new program, Credit Recovery, which was started this past year. It gives students the opportunity to make up classes they might have missed or failed during their high school career after school hours during the year instead of during summer school.

“The courses are taught after school by a certified teacher,” said DiLullo.

He explained that a few years ago, they attempted a computer-based credit recovery program, but it proved unsuccessful. “What we found was students needed that instruction,” said DiLullo.

The courses take place at the high school and are taught by teachers from the school. DiLullo explained that the School Department does pay the teachers who are staying after school to work the program.

The courses will be in the major subjects such as math, English, science and social studies. DiLullo explained that the specific courses – geometry, chemistry, geography and others – are determined by the needs of the students who signed up.

There is a cost of $125 per course to the student, but DiLullo points out that it can replace summer school.

DiLullo also has his eye on how scores on the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) will affect the graduation rate for the class of 2014.

“We’re going to have to wait and see. This is the first year those scores will come into effect and students need to pass or show partial proficiency to graduate,” said DiLullo. “We have a number of students with math NECAP concerns.”

He hopes to have the scores from the October test by the end of January to assist any seniors who remain with a score of a 1.

KIDS COUNT recommended increased access to high-quality early education programs, early warning signs tracking, preparing students to transition to high school, closing achievement gaps and providing multiple pathways to graduation (accelerated programs, online instruction, partnerships with adult education programs, etc.) as possible recommendations to improve graduation rates further.

According to the brief, individuals with a high school diploma are more likely to be employed with a higher income than individuals who don’t. Those without a high school diploma are also more likely to live in poverty, receive public assistance, be involved in criminal activity, have poor physical or emotional health and have a shorter lifespan.

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