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F-M grad rates exceed U.S. average

Fargo-Moorhead area public high schools graduate from 82 percent to 94 percent of their students, according to the most recent figures available. Those graduation rates are similar to most schools in North Dakota and Minnesota, and far above the ...

Fargo-Moorhead area public high schools graduate from 82 percent to 94 percent of their students, according to the most recent figures available.

Those graduation rates are similar to most schools in North Dakota and Minnesota, and far above the 60 percent and lower graduation rates that had 1,700 schools in the U.S. labeled "dropout factories" by a researcher from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Moorhead High School led the way in the metro area with 93.7 percent of its students graduating on time in 2005-06, the latest year for which figures were available, district officials said.

Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton High School was next at 92.9 percent in 2006-07, followed by Fargo at 90.7 percent and West Fargo with 81.7 percent.

North Dakota posted an 86.2 percent graduation rate in 2006-07, according to the Department of Public Instruction. Minnesota averaged 90.67 percent in 2005-06, the Department of Education reported.

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Nationally, the average graduation rate for freshmen after four years was 74.7 percent for the 2004-05 school year, the National Center for Education Statistics reports.

The graduation rates use a cohort method, which follows ninth-graders through their senior year and determines - with adjustments for transfers in and out of districts - how many students graduate in four years.

Four North Dakota high schools - Belcourt, Dunseith, Fort Totten and New Town - were on the dropout factory list generated by researcher Bob Balfanz. He created the list for The Associated Press from U.S. Department of Education data.

However, North Dakota Department of Public Instruction figures dispute those findings, showing New Town and Belcourt beating the 60 percent cutoff, sometimes easily, for the past few years.

Greg Gallagher, DPI's director of standards and achievement, said calling any school a dropout factory insults the efforts of educators in urban and rural poor schools that must not only educate children, but deal with social problems.

"It might make good press, but as far as any responsible characterization, that's unfortunate," Gallagher said.

Eight schools in Minnesota, several of them in the Twin Cities area, were also labeled dropout factories.

A range of factors can put a student at risk for not graduating on time, local officials say. They include homelessness, mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, limited English skills, and in many cases, working too much.

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"We're always competing with employment," West Fargo Assistant Superintendent Louise Dardis said. "Research shows if you work beyond 10 to 15 hours a week, your success rate in school typically declines."

Academics are also more rigorous than in the past, said Lynne Kovash, Moorhead assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.

"It takes a strong commitment for students to continue," she said.

Local officials use multiple strategies to keep students in school.

Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton uses a school-within-a-school program so students can catch up on class credits, said Principal Thomas Gravel. Students also transfer into the Youth Educational Services center in Moorhead to take advantage of alternative programs, he said.

Gallagher said keeping students on track academically through elementary and middle school is vital for high school success. Most students drop out in the ninth and 10th grades, he said.

But F-M school officials say the four-year time limit for graduation also doesn't reflect life's realities.

Individual students may fail a required class, need to work on personal or family problems, or just need extra time to master certain subjects, said Lowell Wolff, the Fargo School District's director of communications and planning.

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"We'd like to see the four-year cohort, plus an additional three years," Wolff said, so students who eventually graduate through alternative programs, night school or get a GED will be counted. "I think that's perfectly acceptable. It's not a one-size-fits-all thing."

In the meantime, local officials said they will continue to try to raise graduation rates. Fargo has made it part of its strategic plan that 95 percent of the students will graduate.

West Fargo is also working to develop an array of programs to improve literacy, math and study skills.

"We are going to be shooting for just the thing No Child Left Behind shoots for - 100 percent graduating," Dardis said. "That has to be our goal. Who will we pick out of a grade not to graduate?"

On the Web

Minnesota Department of Education -

http://education.state.mn.us/MDE/Data/Data_Downloads/Stu-dent/Graduation...

North Dakota Department of Public Instruction - www.dpi.state.nd.us/

Click on school district profile. Then choose your district to look at the full annual yearly progress reports.

Grad rates

Moorhead

2005-06 93.72%

(Most recent figures available)

2004-05 90.93%

2003-04 91.65%

2002-03 90.82%

2001-02 93.22%

Figures supplied by the Moorhead School District.

Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton

2006-07 92.9%

2005-06 98.9%

2004-05 97.8%

2003-04 100%

2002-03 96.5%

2001-02 100%

Figures supplied by D-G-F and the Minnesota Department of Education.

Fargo

2006-07 90.7%

2005-06 86.3%

2004-05 81.4%

2003-04 84.2%

2002-03 88.7%

Figures supplied by the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction.

West Fargo School District

2006-07 81.7%

2005-06 76.98%

2004-05 89.73%

2003-04 86.63%

2002-03 88.12%

Figures supplied by the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction.

- Minnesota's average graduation rate in 2005-06 was 90.7 percent.

- North Dakota's average graduation rate in 2006-07 was 86.2 percent.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

Some material from The Associated Press was used in this report. F-M grad rates exceed U.S. average Helmut Schmidt 20071105

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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