Graduation Matters

By Beacon Staff

Once again the time has come to welcome over 80 million students back to school across the nation. The Flathead Valley community ushers in approximately 10,000 kindergarten through twelfth grade students through our doors this month. Students return to school anticipating success; and it is the intent of all of your local schools to provide the instruction and support necessary to help them achieve that goal.

How success is measured has changed over the last decade. For the last nine years the opening of schools has corresponded to the annual Adequate Yearly Progress report (AYP) to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001. This is a process where public schools are required to meet 41 benchmarks in accordance with the federal guidelines for NCLB. A school’s progress is calculated based on the number of students who participate in the tests, academic achievement, graduation rate and other statistics. On a regular growth timeline, the percentage of students who must achieve proficiency on the state test increases as we move closer to the 2014 deadline of 100 percent proficiency for all students.

The national media has made much of comparing the test results of our schools to one another and to other nations. Interestingly, Flathead High School was randomly selected to be part of the last round program that assesses students on an international basis, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). This test compared the reading achievement levels of 400,000 15-year-old students from 60 countries. This comparison showed that FHS’s average scores were only surpassed by the average scores in Singapore, China (Glacier was not selected, but our state data indicates very similar achievement levels in both high schools).

At all grade levels and in all curricular areas Kalispell’s students perform well above state averages and are consistently one of the highest scoring large school districts in the state in reading, math and science. We have met or exceeded NCLB expectations in all areas with the exception of some small subgroups and our graduation rate. All of Kalispell’s juniors are involved in the Montana University Writing assessment and both Flathead and Glacier high schools’ students annually score at or near the top of all the schools in the state of Montana. Additionally, Kalispell’s high school students’ average ACT scores are well above state and national averages. Further, Montana students’ scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are consistently among the upper tier of all the states in our nation. From this information, it is safe to conclude that the students of the Kalispell Public Schools are achieving at high levels when compared to other schools in our state, our nation and world. More detailed information on Kalispell Public School district student achievement levels can be found at: http://www.sd5.k12.mt.us/Page/35.

Do we have more to do? Absolutely. Although we can be proud of our academic achievement, we still do not have our graduation rate at an acceptable level. About one in five students or twenty percent of students who enter our local high schools as freshmen do not graduate in a four-year period. We work diligently, starting in our elementary schools, to build the skills necessary for academic success. Our alternative and credit retrieval programs have supported many of these young people so they are able to complete the required coursework within five years, but we will not be happy until we graduate all of our students.

To that end, this school year, we will embark on a community wide campaign to help kids understand that, “ Graduation Matters Kalispell!” Increasing the number of workers with education even beyond high school is crucial to America’s future economic success. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 90 percent of the fastest growing jobs in our country require education beyond high school. Therefore, as parents, employers, teachers, and friends we must urge all of our students to stay in school. We are working hard to convey this message and we need community support to reinforce it! We would like to thank our taxpayers for their support of our schools and urge you to encourage our students to complete high school by sharing your stories with young people around why graduation matters.

Darlene Schottle is the superintendent of Kalispell Public Schools.