NAUGATUCK — Last year, 316 students graduated from Naugatuck High School. The year before that, 309 received diplomas.
This year, only 267 students earned enough credits to graduate, and rumors are spreading that the graduation rate has plunged.
“A significant number of students did not graduate from high school this year,” said Republican James O’Sullivan, an attorney challenging incumbent Robert Mezzo for mayor, last week in his nomination speech.
As of the last day of school, however, only 311 students were enrolled as seniors, Principal Janice Saam said.
“It’s a smaller class,” Saam said.
The state will not determine the high school’s actual graduation rate until about October, Saam said. The state calculates four- and five-year graduation rates for schools based on identification numbers assigned to individual students. That way, students who transfer are factored into the graduation rates for the schools they last attended.
As freshmen in the fall of 2009, the class of 2013 enrolled 337 students, according to school records. Saam estimated 80 to 100 students transfer into and out of the high school every year.
Based on the 311 seniors enrolled at the end of this school year, the graduation rate would be nearly 86 percent. That is on par with the four-year graduation rates over the last three years, which have ranged from about 83 to 87 percent. Five-year rates are closer to 90 percent, Saam said.
“Overall, we’ve been at, or fractions of a percent below, the state target,” Saam said.
Nevertheless, improving the graduation rate is one of the things the school system has agreed to work on using grant money from the state’s Alliance District program. The rates for certain racial and socioeconomic subgroups are below what they should be, Saam said. A year ago, only about 71 percent of students eligible for free lunch and 77 percent of Hispanic students graduated in four years from Naugatuck High School.
The school has conducted professional development workshops to help teachers target minorities and students in poverty, Saam said. Some of the Alliance District money provides busing for students to receive extra help after school. Students are also now able to work on problem areas with teachers during their study halls, and an alternative “second chance” program for struggling students is growing, Saam said.
Meanwhile, the school is raising the bar. This year’s sophomores will have to graduate with 25 credits rather than 22, and starting in the fall the minimum grade to pass a subject will increase from 60 percent to 70 percent.
Saam said she hoped those changes would not hurt the graduation rate. Many students work toward the bare minimum they need to graduate, and the changes could just make them work a little harder, Saam said.
“I hate to see students always strive to the minimum, but a minimum of 70 is better than a minimum of 60,” Saam said.