Education

Highest graduation rates ever reached by Phenix City and 2 counties, early data shows

The high school graduation rates in Phenix City, Russell County and Lee County have reached all-time highs using the federal formula, according to the latest data available.

The three Alabama school districts in the Columbus metro area also outpaced the state’s overall improvement when comparing the 2018 graduation rates to 2017.

Russell County improved the most among the three districts, increasing its graduation rate by 7 percentage points to 88%.

Phenix City improved by 4 percentage points to 97%.

Lee County improved by 3 percentage points to 90%.

Alabama’s overall rate improved by 1 percentage point to 90%.

The federal formula has been used in Alabama since the 2015-16 school year. Before that, Alabama had included special-needs students who fulfilled their Individual Education Plan, but didn’t pass all the state-mandated core classes.

The Alabama State Department of Education is scheduled to release these statistics Oct. 18, but the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama prematurely posted the unofficial data online.

“The numbers reported by PARC were not finalized,” ALSDE communications director Michael Sibley told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email. “However, I would characterize them as 99% final — enough that we feel comfortable celebrating those awesome results as near final and essentially complete.”

Alabama’s 2019 graduation rates aren’t being reported now because they lag by a year. The Georgia Department of Education already released its 2019 graduation rates, which the Ledger-Enquirer reported last month.

Reporting of the U.S. high school graduation rate from the National Center for Education Statistics lags by two years. So the most recent national rate of 85% is based on the class of 2017.

Phenix City

Phenix City’s graduation rate now ranks eighth-best among Alabama’s 138 school systems.

“The scores are reflective of the efforts of students, parents, teachers, staff and administrators over the past five years,” Phenix City superintendent Randy Wilkes, who was hired in 2014, told the L-E in an email. “… We are most pleased.”

Wilkes mentioned several factors as helping boost Phenix City’s graduation rate:

  • More than 75,000 hours of professional learning for teachers in the past five years.
  • Emphasizing technology and “hands-on, minds-on” activities in nearly every lesson.
  • Classroom observations “ensure collaboration, rigor and engagement.”
  • Assigning an educational coach to every professional in the system, including the superintendent, and an adult mentor for every high school student.
  • The addition of a graduation coach in 2014 to better track student program.
  • Creation of more ways to obtain academic credit, such as tutoring and online courses.

Russell County

Russell County superintendent Brenda Coley, who was hired in 2015, said the increased graduation rate supports the school district’s motto of “being on the move.”

“The hard work our entire team has done is yielding the results we’ve worked hard and planned for,” Coley told the L-E in an email. “Russell County has a great team of faculty and staff members.”

From 2017 to 2018, Russell County narrowed its gap with the state’s average graduation rate from 8 percentage points to 2.

Coley attributes the improvement to “the extensive collaboration amongst the faculty members, staff members and community stakeholders. We have recently reviewed and revised our system’s strategic plan, which aligns our goals with data-driven strategies and activities to support continued growth for every student and every school.”

Coley also mentioned the following factors:

  • Counselors and a specialist at the high school help students progress toward graduation.
  • Advisory groups review each student’s grades and credits.
  • Multiple credit recovery opportunities are offered.
  • A revised teacher evaluation and feedback process “outlines what effective teaching and learning sounds like, and teachers are provided with individualized and systematic professional development based on their growth and student data.”

Lee County

Lee County superintendent Mac McCoy, in an email to the L-E, called his district’s results, “Good, not great. Not where we want to be. Must keep a positive trajectory.”

The graduation rates improved at half of Lee Countys’ four high schools:

  • Up by 5 percentage points to 95% at Loachapoka.
  • Up by 4 percentage points to 92% at Smiths Station.
  • Down by 2 percentage points to 91% at Beauregard.
  • Down by 10 percentage points to 78% at Beulah.

ALABAMA HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION RATES

Note: These statistics are the most recent available, using the federal formula.

GROUP

2017%

2018%

+/-

Phenix City

93

97

+4

Loachapoka

90

95

+5

Smiths Station

88

92

+4

Lee County

87

90

+3

Alabama

89

90

+1

Beauregard

91

89

-2

Russell County

81

88

+7

United States

84 (2016)

85 (2017)

+1

Beulah

88

78

-10

Ledger-Enquirer staff writer Mark Rice covers education and other issues related to youth. He also writes feature stories about any compelling topic. He has been reporting in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley for more than a quarter-century. He welcomes your local news tips and questions.
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