Greater Westfield dropout rates improve

WESTFIELD — Improvements by Hispanic, low-income and non-native English speaking students helped drive up Massachusetts’ public high school graduation rate for the seventh consecutive year, state education officials announced Monday.
Eighty-five percent of students who entered as ninth-graders in 2009-10, or entered that class at any point, graduated within four years, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said.
The state’s annual dropout rate also fell to 2.2 percent in the 2012-13 academic year, the fifth consecutive year below 3 percent and lowest rate in more than three decades.
“The credit for the terrific rates of improvement we’ve experienced belongs to the educators who on a daily basis reach out to at-risk students to encourage them to stay in school and support their pathway to graduation,” Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester said. “Over the past five years our districts have identified students at increasingly younger ages who are at risk of not persisting to graduation — and have implemented supports and interventions to keep these students on track.”
The graduation rates of black and Asian students also improved, but graduation rates of students with disabilities fell slightly.
The latest year’s graduation rate was 0.3 percentage points higher than the previous year and up 5.1 percentage points from 2006.
Last year’s improvement in the dropout rate meant that 803 fewer students dropped out in 2012-13 than during the previous school year, and 5,188 fewer students dropped out than in 2006-07, when the annual dropout rate was at a high mark of 3.8 percent.
Urban districts, including Boston, Springfield, Worcester, Lawrence and New Bedford, had the best success in cutting the dropout rate.
“A high school diploma is a necessity for anyone hoping to live the American dream. We must invest in what we know works to provide all students with the supports and resources they need to reach this goal,” Education Secretary Matthew Malone said.
In Westfield, Southwick-Tolland-Granville Regional, and Gateway Regional districts saw either increases or incremental decreases in their graduation rates.
In Westfield, the city’s graduation rate slipped from 84.3 percent in 2012 to 82.9 percent in 2013, as the size of the district’s four-year cohort, or group of students that stays together from ninth grade to twelfth, increased from 491 to 504 students between Westfield and Westfield Vocational-Technical high schools.
Westfield’s dropout rate did decrease by 0.2 percent to match the state’s average of 6.5 percent, progress which District Superintendent Dr. Suzanne Scallion is pleased with.
“One dropout is one dropout too many,” Scallion said. “The issue is a complicated one, and we’re developing programs that meet the needs of our students. Westfield is it’s own unique community.”
WVTHS saw positive percentage movement in it’s graduation and dropout rates, as it’s graduation rate increased 1.2 percent from last year to 75.5 percent, while the dropout rate decreased by 0.6 percent to 11.3 percent, all while it gained five students in it’s four-year cohort from 2012 to 2013.
Scallion said that, prior to her arrival in 2011, the city was seeing dropout rates as high as 9.2 percent in 2010, which prompted her to commission a study on the district’s dropout problem.
“If students are dropping out, it’s costing taxpayers far more if kids are on the street than in school,” she said. “We would rather see them in the classroom working toward helping them become more self-sufficient.”
Scallion also praised the state’s efforts in bumping the minimum dropout age up from 16 to 18 in 2016, which she believes will be instrumental in continuing to reduce dropout and increase graduation rates all across the Commonwealth.
“It’s a very good move,” she said. “It gives us another two years to prep students for college and to ensure more students will become more career-ready. It’s outstanding.”
In the Southwick-Tolland-Granville Regional school district, positive shifts were seen in graduation rate, which climbed from a state average of 85 percent in 2012 to 87.8 percent in 2013, and in dropout rate, which decreased from 11.7 in 2012 to the state average of 6.5 percent last year.
The district underwent changes in it’s membership last year as well when students from the town of Granville began attending the school, and the district saw a decrease in it’s four-year cohort, which downsized from 162 in 2012 to 139 last year.
“We’ve had some students that’ve decided to return to school,” said Superintendent John Barry this morning. “We’ve also been working with some students and are accomodating them in taking more time to graduate.”
Barry also spoke of an online credit recovery program that he said is helping students stay above water in the event that they fail a class or need to repeat a course, a measure that he says isn’t hardly unique to his district.
“There are various forms of this (online credit recovery) program being used in other districts,” he said. “Everyone wants to see their students graduate.”
In Huntington, Gateway Regional experienced a small decrease in it’s graduation rate from 80.7 percent to 79.8 for it’s four-year cohorts between 2012 and 2013, while seeing it’s dropout rate decrease dramatically from 11.4 percent to 6.1 percent.
The district, which is made up of students from seven of the Hilltown communities along Route 20 west of Westfield, also saw an increase in it’s four-year cohort from of almost 20 students between 2012 and last year.
“We’ve been fairly stable,” said Gateway Regional Superintendent Dr. David Hopson. “But in a class of about 80 students, losing one or two student makes an impact.”
Hopson said he is committed to working on program development with the district’s students.
“As always, we try to create opportunities for students to stay in school,” he said, adding that the district has an adult education coordinator who has worked with students on general equivalency diploma, or GED, courses in the past.
“I’d like to have a zero percent drop-out rate like everybody else, but we’re working toward it,” he said.

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