Friday, Feb. 24, 2006 | 7:21 a.m.
High school principal Janice Rowland knew that students at her school who struggled to keep up with classes were at risk. Many couldn't read well enough to stay up with their classes, in all subjects.
"If you can't read, you can't achieve," Rowland explained Thursday. As they failed to achieve, she knew, their impulse grew to drop out of Cimarron-Memorial High School.
Rowland's school turned to an intensive remedial reading program, Read 180. It paid off. Every student who participated advanced at least one grade level in proficiency by the end of the school year.
"Because reading has been a problem a lot of these kids haven't liked school," Rowland said. "Now they see their own success so they try harder and are more apt to be involved and stay with us."
Today, Rowland credits Read 180 - along with the hard work of students, teachers and staff - for a 35 percent decline in the school's dropout rate in a single year, falling from 7.9 percent to 5.1 percent by the end of the 2004-05 academic year.
The decline was among the biggest in the Clark County School District, whose overall rate fell nearly one percentage point, to 6.8 percent, in that year, according to data released by the district this week.
Coronado High School reported the lowest overall dropout rate - 2 percent down from 5.5 percent, a decrease of 64 percent.
The report does not include high schools that opened after 2001, because data for all four grade levels is required. The district's two magnet high schools Advanced Technologies Academy and Las Vegas Academy were also left off the list, as was Southern Nevada Vocational Technical Center. The three campuses each have dropout rates of 1.7 percent or lower.
Karlene McCormick-Lee, associate superintendent of research, accountability and innovation, said while the overall decline in the dropout rate was less than 1 percent, it is still noteworthy.
Of the district's 292,000 total enrollment, about 70,000 students are attending comprehensive high schools.
"What you have to realize is that 0.8 percent represents a couple of thousand students," McCormick-Lee said. "And when you think about the amount of effort it takes to help that many kids, I'd call that validated improvement."
In addition to Read 180, Rowland said Cimarron-Memorial is reaping the benefits of AVID, or Advancement Via Individualized Determination. The program targets middle-of-the-road students and provides them with intensive tutoring, one-on-one mentoring and daily classes in study skills and time management. Currently, 90 students are enrolled in the school's AVID program, and Rowland hopes to add spots for 30 more students next year.
AVID is a nonprofit organization with more than 92,000 students in 24 states and 16 countries. Ninety-five percent of students who take part go on to four-year colleges and universities. But the cost of the program - about $60,000 in grant dollars for every section of 30 students - has forced the district to limit its scope to just 18 high schools.
At Coronado, Principal Lee Kroeliker wasn't satisfied with one of the lowest dropout rates in the district. Realizing that some students were dropping out over frustration with the high school proficiency exam - a requirement for graduation - the school began tracking individuals who had repeatedly failed to pass.
Several times a year, struggling juniors and seniors are pulled out of their regular classes for two days of workshops taught by Advanced Placement and honors teachers, Kroeliker said. Separate tutorial sessions are arranged for students with limited English proficiency and special education students aiming for general diplomas.
"Our teachers do a wonderful job and put in a lot of extra time to help these kids be successful," Kroeliker said. "I don't think they get enough credit."
Not all of the news about dropouts was good in the district, however. Foothill High School saw its rate jump from 2.5 percent to 5.2 percent, which has Principal Gretchen Crehan concerned.
Calculating dropout rates requires knowing what happens to students when they leave, Crehan said. She planned to review Foothill's reporting methods to make sure faulty tracking wasn't a factor. "I'm not happy with the fact that it's more than doubled, certainly," Crehan said. "However those numbers are not always a true reflection."
The district has criticized the state's formula for calculating graduation rates as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act - because adult education students are not counted toward the total number of graduates. Similarly the district typically cannot remove a student from the dropout list if he re-enrolls in the adult education program. Last year the district graduated about 500 adult education students.
"I don't know if that's fair, but that's the way they count it," said Sue Daellenbach, the district's testing director.
Nevada's graduation and dropout statistics are among the nation's worst and Clark County accounts for 70 percent of the state's K-12 students.
Maureen Peckman, executive director of the Council for a Better Nevada, said the coalition of business leaders would be seeking more information on how the district calculates its graduation and dropout rates. The organization's newly formed working group plans to tackle the issue of "transparency" in reporting education statistics, Peckman said.
The group has already questioned the district's methods for tabulating graduation rates. Similar concerns surround the latest figures, Peckman said.
"While the numbers appear to show improvement, at this stage I don't have the confidence in the manner in which data is collected or reported to believe those numbers are accurate," Peckman said.
Emily Richmond can be reached at 259-8829 or at [email protected]
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