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SUNDAY, AUGUST 12, 2007
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Lawrence No. 1 in area for grad rates

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com 340-2432

Despite its academic and financial struggles, Lawrence County is an area leader in keeping students in school.

It is outpacing Decatur, whose high schools fall below the 90 percent rate. Decatur High School falls into the 70s and is below the state's 82 percent rate.

Five of Lawrence County's seven schools have a graduation rate of more than 90 percent, and Hazlewood's rate is 89 percent. None of the other five school systems in The Daily's coverage area has a school with a rate over 90 percent.

Graduation rate is based on a formula that projects what percentage of a school's students will graduate within a four-year period.

"We've made a concentrated effort in the last several years," Lawrence Superintendent Dexter Rutherford said. "One of the main reasons is our alternative school program. We've really sought out children who otherwise might drop out."

Rutherford said school officials try to help students who are falling behind in their credits or struggling to pass the graduation exam.

"We upped our intensity on making sure every child has a chance to graduate, and we try to make sure things work for the student," Rutherford said.

Graduation rate is one area where Lawrence County benefits from having small schools. Rutherford said that makes it easier for school officials to know when students are dealing with issues and for teachers to give students more individual attention.

He said Speake High's 77 percent graduation rate is, however, an example of how having a small school could have a negative effect. Small numbers mean the loss of a student has a greater impact on the percentage than it would at a larger school.

Also, Rutherford said smaller schools are unable to offer many of the advanced placement and electives that many of the larger schools do.

Average graduation rates for The Daily's 22 area schools were virtually unchanged for 2006-07 and slightly above the state average.

The state's rate of 82 percent did not change from last year, while local schools' rates were an average of 83.3 percent, 0.3 percentage point better than last year. Both rates are still below the goal of 90 percent.

Nine improved their graduation rates with Danville High's 29-point change the best in the area. Clement High had a 14 point improvement. Thirteen schools saw their graduation rates fall. Brewer High School's rate dropped 8 points and has the worst rate in the area at 66 percent.

Brewer, Speake, Athens, West Morgan, Ardmore and East Limestone high schools did not make their Adequate Yearly Progress goal as part of the state's accountability standards.

If the graduation rate is below 90 percent and the school's rate drops from one year to the next, the school does not make its AYP goal. Failure to reach AYP goals for at least two straight years could lead to penalties from the state.

The rates for two high schools, Austin and R.A. Hubbard, did not change.

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