ELKHART — Indiana’s overall high school graduation rate for the Class of 2019 dropped a notch from the year before, according to results released by the Indiana Department of Education, and most schools in Elkhart County mirrored that trend.
Six of Elkhart County’s seven public school districts, however, exceeded the statewide graduation rate of 87.3%, which is slightly lower than the 2018 state rate of 88.1%, according to state data.
Meanwhile, four of the county’s school districts finished higher than the statewide non-waiver graduation rate of 76.7%, down from the 2018 state rate of 80.8%.
The graduation rate reflects the percentage of all students who graduate, including those qualifying for waivers to graduate despite not completing all requirements. The non-waiver graduation rate counts only the students who completed all graduation requirements.
Elkhart Community Schools, the county’s largest school corporation, saw the largest decline in the area as its graduation rate slid 8.3 percentage points.
According to state data, Elkhart Memorial’s graduation rate is listed at 89% and Central is 84.49% giving the district a cumulative total of 86.65% — down from its record high of 94.96% in 2018.
This marks the first time since 2008 that the district has seen a drop in its graduation rate. Eleven years ago, only 66% of seniors graduated.
The corporation’s non-waiver rate also saw a dip, from 79.95% in 2018 to 75.88% in 2019.
Superintendent Steve Thalheimer said each graduation cohort, and the district, was expecting its graduation rates to fall from last year given accountability changes and more stringent requirements on who is considered part of the graduating class.
“A review of our processes during a recent audit by the Department of Education showed that we need to do a better job of documenting students who leave us for other states or other institutions,” Thalheimer said. “This way they are successfully removed from the graduating cohort and not counted as dropouts which impacts our graduation rate.”
Thalheimer said the district did take advantage of the ability for students to use the new Graduation Pathways from the State Board of Education, which are officially in effect for this year’s freshman class, to move some students away from possibly needing the waiver.
Moving forward, he said, the district intends to continue looking at students who have not passed the Graduation Qualifying ISTEP test at Grade 10 and “see if we can put them on a successful Graduation Pathway of other approved tests or career tech credits and demonstration of workplace readiness skills.”
Goshen High School saw the most improvement this year among area districts with a graduation rate of 93.21%. That’s up significantly from the 2018 graduation rate of 81.8%.
The school’s non-waiver rate also jumped from 76.45% in 2018 to 77.83% in 2019.
Steve Hope, deputy superintendent at Goshen Community Schools who oversees secondary education, said he was pleased with the progress the corporation made with its graduation rate.
“This has been a long-standing goal for Goshen Schools and Goshen High School and we are thrilled to see this jump,” he said.
Hope said some record-keeping errors were discovered in an audit of the previous year’s GHS graduation rate by the state Department of Education.
Without these errors, Hope said, the high school’s graduation rate would have been 88%, which was close to the state average.
In its improvement, Hope said, there has been a constant focus by teachers, staff and administration at the high school to provide a personalized learning experience.
“This starts with strong relationships between staff and students and extends to meaningful programs from International Baccalaureate to manufacturing to fine and performing arts,” Hope said. “At Goshen High School, every student is well known and supported by a caring staff and then each student is challenged to realize their full potential.”
Over the last few years, Hope said, GHS principal Barry Younghans and his team have been tracking the status of every senior on a weekly basis and intervening when necessary to keep every student on track to graduate.
Attendance and academic progress are tracked for every student, with additional supports supplied whenever necessary, Hope said.
“This constant monitoring and providing of supports will ensure that our graduation rates remain strong at Goshen High School,” Hope said. “This is a matter of deliberate and intentional work and not just an anomaly for this year.”
Concord Community Schools’ state graduation rate increased slightly from 89.47% in 2018 to 89.63% in 2019, according to state data.
The non-waiver graduation rate, however, slid from 81.41% in 2018 to 67.9% in 2019.
This marks the third consecutive year the graduation rate has trended upward for Concord High School, a feat Renée Cocanower, director of secondary education at Concord Schools, said the district is proud of.
“In the spring of 2019, we had the largest graduation class in the history of Concord High School with 363 graduates,” she said. “To see our graduation rate continue to increase is a testament to the dedication of our teaching staff across the district as they aim to achieve our goal of 90-plus percentage results in reading and writing, mastery of state and national standards, and college and career readiness.”
As graduation pathway options increase for students, Cocanower said, it is likely the non-waiver graduation rate will increase again.
Baugo Community Schools reported a graduation rate of 91.67% and 84.72% for non-waiver.
That’s up from the 2018 graduation rate which was listed at 89.76% and 79.43% for non-waiver at Jimtown High School.
“We are proud of our growth and believe that our program will continue to support increased graduation rates,” said Superintendent Byron Sanders. “We will never be satisfied until every one of our students graduates on time.”
Beyond a teaching staff that is focused on quality teaching and learning, Sanders said, the school counselors and administrators worked closely with grade levels to make sure students were meeting milestones in their academic path for on-time graduation.
“We plan to continue those strategies that have produced this growth and replicate them,” he said. “Quality teaching and a student-centered approach to school works for Jimtown.”
The other three public school corporations in Elkhart County all saw a dip in their graduation rate but still surpassed the state average, the state report shows.
At Middlebury Community Schools there was a graduation rate of 90.45% and 83.99% for non-waiver students.
Last year, the corporation’s graduation rate was listed at 90.91% and 86.93% for non-waiver students.
Wa-Nee Community Schools reported a graduation rate this year of 92.17% and 90.32% for non-waiver students.
Last year, the corporation’s graduation rate was listed at 94.79% and 89.57% for non-waiver students.
Fairfield Community Schools reported a graduation rate of 92.59% and 85.93% for non-waiver students.
Last year, the corporation’s graduation rate was listed at 94.85% and 89.71% for non-waiver students.