KENNEWICK -- State school officials have identified Kennewick High School as a persistently low-performing school because of its on-time graduation rates, Superintendent Dave Bond said at Wednesday's school board meeting.
Schools that achieve a three-year average graduation rate below 60 percent are classified as low-performing. Kennewick High averaged 59.9 percent over the three school years from summer 2006 to summer 2009.
Bad accounting is to blame for that statistic along with students' failing grades, Bond said. The three-year average was dragged down mainly by one particularly bad year -- the graduation rate in 2007-08 was 53 percent.
The school graduated a little more than 60 percent of its students the year before and 66 percent the year after the abysmal showing. Last year, Kennewick High had a graduation rate of 68 percent.
"We believe that the 55 percent was bad data," Bond said.
Graduation rates don't just show how many students fail to get a degree their senior year. Rather, each year's rate reflects all students of all grades who dropped out that year compared to the total student count. Also subtracted are continuing students -- seniors who don't have enough credits to graduate but aren't dropping out -- and students who go on to get a high school equivalency degree.
And students can be listed as dropouts when they actually just transferred to another school. Even if teachers are told by parents that they are moving out of town, the district can only mark a student as a transfer once the student's new school requests his or her records from the Kennewick district, Bond said. Not all districts seem to do this, he said.
Particularly the missing students in lower grades -- the ones too young to begin working -- likely just transferred to other districts, Bond said.
"We think we did a lousy job with coding," he said.
But graduation rates below 70 percent don't just stem from students moving out of town. Besides parsing their data, the district has also started a new initiative to reduce failing grades in its high schools.
The other two traditional high schools in the district -- Kennewick also has two alternative high schools with small groups of students -- boast better graduation rates. Kamiakin High School had a graduation rate of 81 percent last year and Southridge's was 78 percent. Both are virtually unchanged from the year before.
Kennewick High's graduation rate is lower in part because of the much higher percentage of English language learners among its students, Bond said. The classes those students take in their freshman year to learn English don't count toward graduation, which means these students often graduate a year late, which counts against the school's on-time graduation rate.
But despite the disparity between the three schools, each of them hired a new employee called a success coordinator this summer. The new staffer organizes tutoring sessions and other efforts to improve students' grades.
At Kennewick High, seniors with 13 to 15 credits are required to attend tutoring sessions after school, said Principal Van Cummings. They meet four times per week, he said. Freshmen with poor grades receive lunchtime tutoring.
At Kamiakin High, the success coordinator goes to the homes of kids who aren't doing well in school, said Principal Chris Chelin. Tutoring also is required.
Southridge High puts added pressure on kids who don't show up for their mandatory tutoring. They must participate in a campus cleanup.
The first time the school enforced the penalty, it did wonders for the next tutoring session's attendance, said Principal Steve Biehn.
* Also Wednesday, the school board elected officers from among its members. Dawn Adams remained president, Heather Kintzley is vice president and Wendy London is the legislative representative.