HNHS graduation rates decline in 2020

Grace Dimond, a 2020 Huntington North High School graduate, receives her diploma at North Arena on May 29, 2020. HNHS took extra precautions to ensure that graduates could safely receive their diplomas during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as spreading out the graduation into timed shifts and cleaning hand rails between graduates.
Grace Dimond, a 2020 Huntington North High School graduate, receives her diploma at North Arena on May 29, 2020. HNHS took extra precautions to ensure that graduates could safely receive their diplomas during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as spreading out the graduation into timed shifts and cleaning hand rails between graduates. TAB File Photo.

On Jan. 15, the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) released the 2020 state graduation rate, which increased from 87.29 percent overall in 2019 to 87.69 percent overall in 2020, a .44 percent increase.

Indiana Secretary of Education Dr. Katie Jenner says “this modest improvement in (the) graduation rate is encouraging, especially as Hoosier students and educators have tackled unprecedented challenges throughout this pandemic.”

That being said, it would appear that Huntington North High School, the only high school in the Huntington County Community School Corporation’s district, has actually had a significant drop in graduation rates from 2019 to 2020.

According to the compiled state graduation rate records released by IDOE, HNHS held a 94.64 percent graduation rate as of Dec. 31, 2019. As of Jan. 15, 2021, the 2020 graduation rate for HNHS stood at 90.55 percent - nearly a five percent decrease.

Because there are differences between federal and state accountability equations and standards, IDEO also released 2020 federal graduation rates. Overall, Indiana jumped from 86.46 percent overall in 2019 to 87.01 percent in 2020, a .55 percent increase.

According to the federal graduation rate, Huntington North still held a 94.64 percent graduation rate in 2019, but fell to a 90.27 percent graduation rate in 2020.

Chad Daugherty, the HCCSC superintendent, says that there are many factors that have played into the decrease in Huntington North’s graduation rates.

“Obviously, having the shutdown in March has brought on a lot of challenges for Huntington North teachers, administration, staff members and students,” Daugherty says. “We are disappointed in the percentage drop, but after being presented with several challenges, we are still doing well.”

Aside from the COVID-19 pandemic causing a full shutdown in March for HCCSC, other challenges for HNHS have included students moving out of the district or going to homeschooling options instead, without being properly documented within the state.

Daugherty said that, in addition to these students leaving HCCSC and “counting against” the graduation rate, students that receive a certificate of completion through the special needs sector of the school do not improve the graduation rate.

Huntington North still stands above the state’s graduation rate of 87.69 percent, and Daugherty takes special note of the work that the Huntington North staff members have put in for their students.

“They work extremely hard to get kids to graduation,” Daugherty said. “Our goal is to get every kid through their schooling and to offer several avenues to keep them hooked into high school. The relationship pieces at the high school are important to student success, too.”

Avenues for student success include advanced placement classes and dual credit classes that can count towards college credits, as well as programs such as the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, classes at the Learning Center and others for students who might plan to do something outside of secondary education after graduation.

HNHS offers avenues for success for all students. Students, whether they choose to pursue a secondary education, join the armed forces or enter the workforce, can be aided by advanced placement or dual-credit classes, as well as programs like the Junior Reserve Officer’sTraining Corps program or by taking classes at the Learning Center.

“We are always taking a look at what we can do to prepare our students for life after high school,” Daughtery said.

One reality of the drop in graduation rates is that, in the future, rates may continue to struggle due to the pandemic. Although many virtual students stay on task and have been “doing a great job”, there is still a portion of virtual students at the elementary, middle and high school levels that have fallen behind.

“Teachers do a great job in trying to communicate with their virtual students,” Daughtery said. “But we still have a portion of students that have not been turning in their work. We’ve been checking in and doing home visits, but we will have a challenge in getting them caught up, especially when they return to in-person classes.”

Daugherty says that it will be critical for the students who have fallen behind to get the proper remediation.

“We want them to know that we do care about them and we want them to get a good education,” Daugherty said of HCCSC students. “We feel it is so important to have the in-person option for schooling too, as it can be beneficial for their physical, social and mental well-being.”

Going forward, HCCSC will do their part to ensure that the most accurate information on students that have moved out of the district is received by the state, in order to help gauge more accurate graduation rates. Another step towards aiding students and increasing graduation rates will be offering additional credit recovery classes.

Daugherty also noted the dedication and leadership that Huntington North High School staff members and administrators have shown for their students during the pandemic, especially in providing a COVID-19 safe graduation ceremony for students.
“We made it personalized. Our kids still got to walk at North Arena, and our administration team did a great job during a tough time,” Daugherty said.

Daugherty feels that, though the graduation rate numbers may be concerning, there is more to the story.

“It is just one piece of data, and it doesn’t necessarily reflect the whole story,” he said.