St. Mary Parish grad rate ranks 33rd in state -- 73.8% rate bests state’s record high rate of 72.3%

CENTERVILLE, La. -- The percentage of St. Mary Parish public high school students who graduate in four years increased 4.1 percentage points in 2012, reaching 73.8 percent and besting the state percentage by 1.5 points.

St. Mary Parish ranks 33rd in the state for its high school graduation rate, according to Department of Education statistics released Thursday.

By 2014, Louisiana plans to achieve a graduation rate of 80 percent. Given the ongoing trend, the state is steadily closing in on its goal, St. Mary Superintendent Donald Aguillard said.

St. Mary Parish also experienced a consistent upward movement in graduation rate. Since 2008, the district’s rate has grown progressively, raising graduation levels by 10.4 percentage points.

Individual graduation rates for most St. Mary Parish schools experienced solid increases over the previous four-year period as well, Aguillard said. Berwick, Franklin, Morgan City and Patterson high schools have posted their highest graduation rates in 2012. They were Berwick, 87.4 percent, a 6.3-point increase over the previous year; Franklin, 73 percent, a 5.2-point increase; Morgan City, 74.6 percent, a 7.8-point increase; and Patterson, 76.3 percent, an increase of 5.6 points.

Conversely, West St. Mary High School posted its lowest graduation rate in the same time frame at 61.5 percent, a 5.2-point drop from the previous year. Centerville High School also showed a sizeable loss. With a 75 percent graduation rate, the school dropped 5.6 points from the previous year.

St. Mary Parish graduated 510 seniors in the 2011-12 school year.

“Although incremental declines in graduation rates may be evidenced from year-to-year, schools are working diligently to secure programs in an effort to support students in achieving a high school diploma,” Aguillard said via press release.

Since 2008, several St. Mary high schools have posted double digit percentage point gains in graduation rates. Morgan City High School saw the largest increase at 18 points. In the 2007-08 school year, the school had the lowest graduation rate in the parish, according to information released by the parish.

The state’s record high rate of 72.3 percent was announced Thursday by Gov. Bobby Jindal during an appearance in Geismar at Dutchtown High School, where, officials said, the graduation rate jumped by 4.5 percentage points to 94 percent for 2012.

The state’s rate has been climbing since the mid-1990s, although the rate of increase changes from year to year. The 2012 rate was up less than a percentage point from the 2011 rate of 71.4 percent. The 2011 rate was a more than 4 percentage point jump from the 67.2 percent in 2010.

Tensas Parish showed the highest increase in figures released by the state — a more than 16 point jump from 58.1 percent to 74.5 percent. Catahoula Parish, with a 10.5 percentage point increase to 69.4 percent, had the second largest, followed by the Recovery School District, which takes over failing schools from local districts. Its 55.4 percent rate was a 10.1 percent improvement.

Jindal noted in a news release that state rates have improved by 10 percentage points in the last 10 years. He touted policies his administration implemented during the four-year period when last year’s graduates were in school. Those include the assignment of letter grades to schools so parents and the public can better measure school performance, an overhaul of what the administration termed ineffective dropout prevention programs, and more rigorous college preparatory programs.

An analysis by Education Week in 2009 noted that the graduation rate was 54 percent in 1996. Then-Gov. Mike Foster pushed major changes in education in the ‘90s, including a school accountability program that has been refined over the years under former Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Jindal.

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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