Mesa Unified School District, the largest in the state, tops the national average in graduation rates, according to a report issued in early June.
Nearly 75 percent of the Class of 2010 received a diploma nationwide — the highest percentage to graduate since the 1970s, according to the report, Diplomas Count 2013, released by Education Week.
In Mesa, 76 percent of its Class of 2010 graduated in four years and 79 percent graduated in five years, said Joe O’Reilly, the district’s director of research and assessment.
But the district is hoping to improve that.
This summer, the district is working to capture back some of the 800 students who dropped out over the last two years, O’Reilly said. An attempt to contact each of those students is underway.
“We are currently in the process of calling every dropout from the last two years to see: Are they back in school? What are they doing now? Do they want to come back?” O’Reilly said. “School counselors do it during the school year. Now that the school year is over, let’s see how many we can get back.”
So far, O’Reilly said, there have been positive
“There are a number who indicated they want to come back to school. There were a few who did go back to school but did not have the same (student identification) number. Then a number of them got their GED,” he said. “What they’ve probably done is they’ve seen what life’s like without a diploma and they’ve realized they really need that. Some are interested in online. Some are interested in regular school. Some are interested in an alternative program, all the different ways we can serve those students.”
What Mesa is doing follows right along with what the national report writers say is a much-needed effort.
“While much attention has gone to identifying teenagers who are at risk of dropping out and finding ways to keep them in school, comparatively fewer efforts have been expended on bringing back the students who have already left,” the executive report of “Diploma Counts” states.
Mesa’s efforts will also help the district in the future as schools’ graduation rates are weighed more heavily in the grades they receive from the state Department of Education, O’Reilly said.
Right now, out of 200 points, districts can receive up to 3 points for their graduation rate – or 1.5 percent of the score. The federal government is requiring states to increase that. Beginning next year, graduation rates will count toward 20 percent of the district’s score.
“That’s a big change. That’s one reason we’re doing stuff now that will impact the graduation rate in the future,” O’Reilly said. “What it’s also doing is, as we talk to families, they like the fact that they’re getting a call from someone asking, ‘Is your child being successful?’ If not, we tell them some alternatives we have. The families and the students realize the importance to complete their education.”
Arizona overall is not following the national trend in graduating more high school students. While many states nationwide are increasing graduation rates, Arizona’s graduation rate actually dropped five points to more than 67 percent. Vermont and North Dakota lead the nation with graduation rates of 85 percent and 84 percent respectively. The lowest graduation rates are New Mexico and the District of Columbia, which both fall below 60 percent. Arizona sits in the bottom fifth of all reporting states.
“Not only are we below the national average, but we dropped five points over the last year,” said Erin Hart, COO of Expect More Arizona, a group trying to increase parent engagement and educational expectations in the state. “What that means is 145 students in Arizona are dropping out every day. Until that number is no students dropping out, we have a lot of work to do.”
Parents and students are the key factors to making the change, Hart said. Not only should parents expect education to be a priority in their homes, they should expect it to be a priority in the state.
“The good news is we have an amazing resource in Arizona. That’s our students. Our students are really amazing. If we were to come together and provide a world class education to our students, they would rise to the challenge and they would receive a great education along the way.”
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