More high school students are graduating in Manatee County

High school graduation rates continue to climb in Manatee County and throughout the state.

Manatee’s graduation rate was 85.4 percent in 2018, an increase of 4.3 percentage points over the prior year, according to a news release from the school district.

“We continue to make strong strides academically as a school district and it is all due to the hard work and dedication of our students, teachers and support employees,” Superintendent Cynthia Saunders said in a prepared statement.

The announcement comes just two weeks after the state accused Saunders of inflating graduation rates during the 2014-2015 school year.

In a Dec. 6 letter from Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, the state accused Manatee’s interim superintendent of violating five administrative codes and two state statutes. She now has a chance to submit her rebuttal and defend her educator license.

According to the letter, Saunders directed employees to code drop-out students at “withdrawn to home education,” causing the district’s graduation rate to be “incorrectly reflected as above average for the state” in 2015.

The district has since shifted blame to Horizons Academy, an alternative education program for struggling students.

More than 80 percent of students coded as “home education” were from Horizons in the 2014-2015 school year, according to a 2017 report from the attorneys at Johnson Jackson LLC.

To increase its graduation rate, district administrators are currently tracking data and pinpointing the most at-need students, according to Manatee’s news release.

“We’re constantly providing information to keep teachers and students informed of where they stand,” said Shirin Gibson, the director of assessment and research.

Support is then offered to Manatee’s struggling students, according to a prepared statement from Willie Clark, the executive director of secondary schools.

“Now we can start helping students as early as the 9th grade if we see they are struggling on their way to graduation,” he said. “We also keep expanding and improving remediation programs so that students can reach the goal of graduating.”

As for the statewide numbers, Florida’s graduation rate increased 3.8 percentage points between 2017 and 2018, climbing from 82.3 percent to 86.1 percent

The state’s graduation rate has continually increased since 2007, when the rate was less than 60 percent.

Students of every race and ethnicity are graduating at higher rates, with one exception. The graduation rate for American Indians and Alaska Natives rose from 73.8 percent to 80 percent between 2014 to 2017, but the rate dropped slightly to 79.8 percent in 2018.

Of the 13.9 percent of students not represented in Florida’s graduation rate, 3.5 percent of students dropped out of school, while 10.4 percent were classified as non-graduates.

Such students could be finishing school or attending adult education. The students may have earned a certificate of completion, a special diploma or a GED, or they might have transferred to a private school.

“The graduation rate measures the percentage of students who graduate within four years of their first enrollment in ninth grade,” the DOE said in its announcement. “Subsequent to their enrollment in ninth grade, students who transfer out or pass away are removed from the calculation.”