Education

Phenix City’s high school graduation rate soars

Central-Phenix City High School
Central-Phenix City High School

Phenix City’s graduation rate has soared 29 percentage points in the past three years, from 63 percent in 2013 to 92 percent in 2016.

That revelation comes via Friday’s email blast from Phenix City Schools superintendent Randy Wilkes.

The comparison is possible now because the Alabama State Department of Education has released recalculated class of 2016 figures for each school after differing with the U.S. Department of Education about how it determines the high school graduation rate. This now allows valid comparisons to be made between the 2016 graduation rates and previous years. The 2017 numbers haven’t been released.

Alabama has been including students with disabilities who earn a diploma through the “Essential/Life Skills Pathway,” which doesn’t meet the federal definition of a high school graduate because the program isn’t fully aligned with the state’s standard diploma academic requirements, according to the findings in a June 14 report from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General. As a result, the report considers Alabama’s graduation rates as far back as 2010 to be inflated and unreliable.

Phenix City’s 2016 graduation rate using Alabama’s formula is 92 percent, and its graduation rate using the federal formula is 88 percent. The state’s 2016 Alabama graduation rate is 89 percent, and its federal graduation rate is 87 percent.

Asked for his reaction to this news and what the school system has done to attain this success, Wilkes told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email, “Phenix City Schools’ improvement in graduation rate is due to the change in the educational climate created by the extraordinary efforts of students, staff and parents. Moreover, the gain is due to increased student expectation, a rise in the level of student engagement, enhanced curriculum rigor, empowerment of students and the creation of student ownership. The adage of ‘failure is not an option’ is evidenced by the various means in which students can advance, recover and repeat credits and courses. Staff and leadership have significantly improved the maintenance of student records. This achievement is the result of total team effort. All are to be commended.”

Asked the same questions, Central High School principal Tommy Vickers told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email, “This is an extraordinary accomplishment by the students, teachers and office staff at Central to attain this remarkable improvement.”

Vickers listed the following factors as contributing to the increased graduation rate:

▪ Tutoring by all teachers available every morning from 8 to 9 a.m. for any student needing additional help.

▪ Credit recovery programs before, during and after school for students who have fallen behind academically and realize the importance of catching up with their graduating class.

▪ A standards recovery program that reteaches and reassesses students immediately after they fail to master a content standard, rather than waiting until the end of the semester after they have failed the course.

▪ Extreme diligence by the office staff in keeping track of all students who withdraw from Central to ensure they enroll at another school or they are provided counseling on other options to complete their secondary education.

▪ “Most importantly,” Vickers said, “an awesome teaching staff that understands that we are in the student business to prepare them for college and/or a career, and not every student comes from the same background. Therefore, it is imperative that we emphasize the importance of every individual student because of their own unique situation.

Vickers added, “While we are proud of this accomplishment, the goal is a 100 percent graduation rate, and we will continue to work toward that end.”

The three-year graduation growth in Phenix City includes an increase of 32 percentage points for black students (from 62 percent in 2013 to 94 percent in 2016), an increase of 30 percentage points for Hispanic students (from 60 percent in 2013 to 90 percent in 2016) and an increase of 30 percentage points for impoverished students (from 62 percent in 2013 to 92 percent in 2016).

Phenix City subgroup graduation rates during those three years declined for Asian students by 3 percentage points (from 98 percent in 2013 to 95 percent in 2016), for Pacific Islander students by 3 percentage points (from 98 percent in 2013 to 95 percent in 2016) and for special-education students by 7 percentage points (from 78 percent in 2013 to 71 percent in 2016).

Russell County’s 2016 Alabama-formula graduation rate is 78 percent, the same as 2015, and its federal-formula graduation rate is 74 percent. The Ledger-Enquirer didn’t reach Russell County superintendent Brenda Coley for comment Friday.

Lee County’s 2016 Alabama-formula graduation rate is 83 percent, a decrease of 5 percentage points from 2015. Its federal-formula graduation rate also is 83 percent. The Ledger-Enquirer didn’t reach Lee County superintendent Mac McCoy for comment Friday.

ALABAMA HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION RATES

Local comparisons

School

2015 %

2016 %

+/-

Phenix City

87

92

+5

Russell County

78

78

0

Lee County

88

83

-5

State

89

87

-2

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