Although four-year graduation rates across the state increased as a whole in 2013, the numbers fell at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls and Naugatuck High School.
According to the state Department of Education, approximately 85 percent of high school seniors graduated after four years in 2013. This is an increase of 0.7 percent over the 2012 graduation rate.
However, Naugatuck High saw its four-year graduation rate — the number of students that graduate in four years — fall from 84.7 percent in 2012 to 78.4 percent in 2013. At Woodland, the rate dropped from 92.3 percent in 2012 to 90.2 percent in 2013.
Interim Naugatuck Superintendent of Schools James Connelly said the four-year graduation rate for students who qualify for free or reduced lunch and English Language Learners, which are students for whom English is not their first language, were significantly below the district average.
According to state statistics, 76.1 percent of students who qualify for reduced lunches graduated in four years, while 67.6 percent of students qualifying for free lunches did so. English Language Learner students had a 50 percent graduation rate.
However, when the graduation rate is extended to five years, 100 percent of the English Language Learners graduate, Connelly said.
“If it takes a student five years to get a high school diploma, I don’t see that as failure at all,” Connelly said. “There are some subgroups that need more intensive help and time.”
While Connelly feels there are certain subgroups that need more time and attention, he wants to make sure the school raises its graduation rate overall.
“Even at a 78.4 percent graduation rate, that’s almost a quarter of our kids that aren’t graduating,” Connelly said.
Connelly said students who struggle in their freshmen and sophomore years are more likely to drop out or not finish high school in four years.
Connelly said the high school is using Alliance District funding, which is given to the 30 lowest school districts in the state based on standardized test scores, towards the development of a tutorial program for struggling students. The program started during this current school year.
“We will focus on ninth- and tenth-graders struggling so they can get out of tenth with a credit amount that puts them on the track to graduate on time,” Connelly said.
Connelly said the district also needs to revamp its alternative education program.
“We don’t have an effective alternative education program in Naugatuck. These are students who are struggling in school both academically and socially,” Connelly said. “Naugatuck needs to look at additional alternatives for alternative education that will help us address the dropout rate.”
Woodland Principal Kurt Ogren said the change in Woodland’s graduation rate is in part due to the size of the school.
“Since Woodland is a small school, the graduation percentages may go up or down by a couple of percentage points each year and this may represent three or four students in total,” Ogren said.
For example, Ogren said, the average size class at Woodland over the next four years is 180 students. A 92.3 percent graduation rate means that 166 of the 180 students graduated in four years. But, he said, if the graduation rate dips to 90.2 percent, this means that 162 of the 180 students graduated within the four-year time frame.
Ogren said the school’s alternative education program, which began in 2013, has helped several students graduate on time.
Ogren said the school has also implemented a variety of programs to help students graduate on time, including OdysseyWare, an online program for credit recovery, a summer school mastery program and the formation of a teacher-driven data teams to target areas of improvement.
Officials are also making an effort to target students at an early age, Ogren said. Full-day kindergarten is planned to be implemented in Region 16 and curriculum changes are being made with the goal of all students reading on grade level by the end of third grade, Ogren said.
Graduation rates are a factor in the state’s new accountability system.
All high schools are expected to have four-year graduation rates of 94 percent and “extended” graduation rates of 96 percent by 2024. By “extended,” state officials mean a tally of graduates and students who missed the four-year mark, but remain in school.
Schools that fall off track to reach that goal can be labeled “focus schools,” and can be required to launch state-approved reform plans. This year, however, Gov. Dannel Malloy has suspended consequences for lower-than-desired graduation rates. Focus schools that have hit graduation rate targets for two years, however, can graduate out of that group, according to state Department of Education spokesperson Kelly Donnelly.
The Republican American contributed to this article.