Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011 | 10:03 p.m.
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No matter how it’s calculated, the high school graduation rate in Clark County is abysmal.
The class of 2011 saw less than half of its incoming freshman graduate.
This school year, however, more seniors might make it across the stage in June — diplomas in hand — after the Clark County School District implements several initiatives this fall to improve graduation rates, officials said Thursday.
Of the 20,600 incoming seniors, the School District has identified nearly 10,000 students who don’t have enough class credits and haven’t passed the standardized High School Proficiency Exam needed to graduate. The exam is first administered in 10th grade and tests students on mostly 9th grade material.
“We have a large number of kids in harm’s way,” said Pedro Martinez, deputy superintendent of instruction.
Principals at each of the 49 high schools in the district were tasked this summer to come up with a plan to help 7,430 of these at-risk students graduate. The district feels this subset of seniors can be helped in time to graduate with the rest of the senior class.
“Frankly, we can’t undo what they didn’t get in 12 years, but we have one year to help them graduate,” Martinez said. “I think we can help these kids.”
Principals reviewed each of the at-risk students’ transcripts and submitted plans to help them graduate. These targeted students will receive special attention: a cocktail of credit retrieval programs, additional classes, online help and tutoring.
Each at-risk student will also be paired with a teacher, counselor or assistant principal who will oversee his or her academic progress on a weekly basis.
“The fact that they know someone cares about them will make a world of difference with these kids,” said School Board member John Cole. “We have time and effort invested in these kids. Why would we ever want to give up on them?”
The rest of the at-risk seniors — some 2,400 of them — are so far behind in their credits and standardized testing, the school district is looking for other options to help them graduate, Martinez said. They may need to stay behind a year to get ready to graduate, he said.
But Martinez said he hasn’t given up on these students.
“They wouldn’t be in the (school) building, coming in for four years not wanting to graduate,” Martinez said. “They want to graduate. What they’re looking for is the support system to be able to do it.”
The School District is also looking to decrease the number of students who need remediation and increase the number of upperclassmen taking challenging Advanced Placement classes.
Research has shown that even if students don’t pass the voluntary AP exams, students who take AP classes are more likely to succeed in college. By having more students take AP classes in high school, more Clark County School District alumni can graduate from community colleges such as the College of Southern Nevada, which has an 8 percent graduation rate.
“If you expose (high school students) to rigor now, that’s what is going to help them in post-secondary,” Martinez said.
By next school year, the School District will phase out remediation classes in high schools. It’s all part of raising standards for students in Clark County, Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones said.
“Remedial courses and low expectations will not stand,” he said.