AUGUSTA — Even as graduation rates fell at half of Maine’s high schools last year, the state’s overall graduation rate increased, from 82.8 percent to 83.8 percent.

“One percent is considered real movement, especially because we’ve done it two years in a row,” Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said.

Maine’s high school graduation rate, which counts students who graduate within four years of entering high school, was 80.4 percent in 2009, 82.8 percent in 2010 and 83.8 percent in 2011, according to the data released Monday. Students who take more than four years to finish or who get their diploma through adult education are counted as dropouts.

Compared to 2010, graduation rates fell for 66 Maine high schools, increased for 64 schools and stayed the same for two.

From 2009 to 2011, however, 90 out of the 132 schools increased their graduation rates.

One central Maine school apparently on the right track is Regional School Unit 18’s Messalonskee High School in Oakland, where the graduation rate has increased steadily: 84.2 percent in 2009, 88 percent in 2010 and 90.2 percent in 2011.

“We’re not perfect — we have a long way to go,” Superintendent Gary Smith said. “But we really try to work with each and every student and understand if there’s some issues in respect to graduation — how can we all kind of come together and help this student reach that goal?”

Smith said guidance counselors, teachers and administrators work together closely to help students who may be at risk of not graduating. In addition, school staff are paying special attention to collecting and reporting data, so transfers aren’t counted as dropouts, he said.

Because of federal mandates, Maine changed the way it calculated graduation rates in 2009, so the rates for the last three years cannot be compared to earlier data.

“We are glad to see an increase and that Maine appears to remain ahead of the national average,” Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said in a news release. “We still have considerable work to do.”

The graduation rate for low-income students increased about 2 percentage points but remained much lower than the rate for the general population, at 72.7 percent.

Girls are graduating on time more often than boys: 86.5 percent compared to 81.3 percent.

Graduation rates are higher at Maine’s town academies, which are private schools that are subject to some state requirements because at least 60 percent of their students are publicly funded. The graduation rate for those schools was 91.8 percent, including students whose parents pay tuition in addition to publicly funded students.

At public high schools, where 11,910 of last year’s 13,042 on-time graduates earned their diplomas, the graduation rate was 83.1 percent, up from 82 percent in 2010.

Easton Junior-Senior High School, North Haven Community School and Vinalhaven School achieved 100 percent graduation rates among their small 2011 graduating classes.

Among regular high school programs, RSU 12’s Wiscasset High School had the lowest graduation rate in 2011 at 61.8 percent. It was 78.2 percent in 2009.

RSU 38’s Maranacook Community High School in Readfield also has had a sharp decline in the past two years, from 92.7 percent in 2009 to 76 percent in 2011.

Superintendent Rich Abramson said that is probably because of the inclusion of Phoenix House Academy of Maine students. Maranacook staff work with the teenagers in the residential substance abuse program, and they are counted as Maranacook students for state subsidy and other data collection.

Abramson also said there is an increase in the number of Phoenix House students dropping out rather than earning a Maranacook diploma or returning to their home school. About 45 to 50 students pass through Phoenix House in the course of a year, Abramson said.

Abramson said nearly every Maranacook student leaves with a diploma, even if it’s a year or two late or completed through adult education, both of which factors qualify a student as a dropout by the state’s definition.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]


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