Fulton district vows to ‘turn around’ low graduation rate

By Ashley M. Casey

The Fulton City School District saw only 65 percent of its Class of 2013 graduate last year, according to data from the state Education Department.

The state’s report shows a 2 percent increase over the 63 percent graduation rate the district reported in October 2013.

“It is what it is,” Betsy Conners, executive director of instruction and assessment, said at the June 24 board of education meeting.

Conners presented the findings about the 2009-2013 cohort of students and their graduation rates to the board.

These students entered ninth grade in 2009 and were projected to have graduated last year, but less than two-thirds of them actually did.

The Fulton district’s rate is the lowest in Oswego County, falling just behind Hannibal’s 67 percent. Sandy Creek graduated 92 percent of its 2009 cohort last year, the highest in the county.

The state average is 74.9 percent.

“We’re off and I’m not happy, but it’s not abysmal,” Conners said of comparing Fulton to the state average.

Fulton faced a similar situation in 2008 when the graduation rate fell to 66 percent for the 2003 cohort. By 2013, the district did manage to bring the five-year graduation rate for the 2008 cohort back up to 79 percent.

Conners said Geri Geitner, director of student support programs, created a team at G. Ray Bodley High School to examine the data and determine why 17 percent of the 2009 cohort dropped out of school.

According to a district report back in October 2013, many students who did not graduate are of low socioeconomic status.

Others are dealing with other issues such as substance abuse, mental illness, teen pregnancy and parenting, incarceration and homelessness.

“We have been here before and we have turned it around,” Conners said, “and I am confident that we will turn it around again.”

Grade-less K-6 report cards

Elementary schoolers’ report cards will be missing one thing next fall — a grade.

Conners unveiled the prototype of a new report card for students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

The new report card eliminates letter grades and measures a student’s performance on a 1-4 rubric scale in effort and another scale for progress (Needs Improvement, Inconsistent, Satisfactory or Excellent).

The district will send out a packet of information with the new report cards explaining the changes.

Conners said her department plans to post a video explanation on the schools’ website soon.

“Parents just don’t understand — ‘What do you mean my kid’s not going to get that A, B, C, D, F?’” Conners said of early reactions to the new report card.

Conners cited a “disconnect” between students’ test scores and classroom grades as the motivation for revamping the elementary report card.

She explained that a letter grade does not necessarily show how a student learns and understands material, and some students fall into a “cycle of failure” early in their academic career based on poor test scores.

“Now we want to be able to say, ‘Here’s is the standard. Here’s what you’re going to have to get to; here’s how we’re going to make sure you get there,’ versus saying, ‘You failed,’” she said.

Conners said the Junior High School is considering a similar redesign of its report cards.

Board members voiced positive opinions on the change.

“I like that this is going to push us more toward the philosophical belief of learning that all students can succeed,” said board president David Cordone.

Board member Barb Hubbard said the planned video explanation is a good communication tool for parents.

“They all can’t attend open house or teacher meetings, so this would be another way for them to get that information,” she said.

Odds and ends

  • G. Ray Bodley High School’s Class of 2014 is set to graduate today — Saturday, June 28 — at 10 a.m. at the Fulton War Memorial.
  • The school board’s reorganization and regular meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. July 8 at the Education Center, 167 S. Fourth St., Fulton.


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