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Officials discuss grad rates, issues at rez schools

Aug 15, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Student academic performance in Fremont County schools was the focus when the Joint Education Committee and the Select Committee on Tribal Relations on Education met July 15 at Central Wyoming College.

During the meeting, local officials and representatives from the Wyoming Department of Education offered their insight into the statistics on graduation rates, enrollment, attendance and academic performance for the schools in the county.

Rates

WDE interim director Jim Rose reported graduation rates for the 2009-12 school years. For Fremont County School District 25 in Riverton, the rate was 79 percent in 2009 and increased to 83 percent in 2010. In 2011, the number dropped to 73 percent.

In Lander, the 2009 graduation rate was 76 percent, up to 83 percent in 2010 and 86 percent in 2011.

In contrast, District 14 -- Wyoming Indian High School -- recorded a graduation rate of 53 percent in 2009. That number went down in 2010 to 43 percent and in 2011 to 40 percent.

District 38 -- Arapaho Charter High School -- had a 17 percent graduation rate in 2009. That percentage remained the same for the next school year but increased to 26 percent for 2011-12.

The graduation rate at St. Stephen's was 75 percent for the most recent school year. School officials said total enrollment for the year was set at 246 students, with average daily attendance rates at 87 percent for elementary schoolers, 84 percent for middle schoolers and 88 percent for high schoolers.

Scotty Ratliff, vice-chairman of the Wyoming Board of Education, said that students earning General Educational Development degrees represent the largest student population in Fremont County. He said the statistic is the result of high drop out rates locally.

At St. Stephen's, Ratliff said, 94 percent of third-graders scored below basic or basic in reading on the Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming last year. Those numbers were taken from a total of 16 third-graders. Also, the report showed that 100 percent of the 11th-graders -- about 10 students -- scored below basic or basic in math for the same school year. Additionally, 69 percent of their fifth-graders scored in the proficient or advanced levels in math and 60 percent of 10th-graders placed proficient or advanced in the reading portion of the PAWS performance testing for the 2011-12 school year.

In Lander, 810 students, or 85 percent, tested at the proficient or advanced level in reading in 2011-12, while in Riverton, 76 percent of 1,244 students placed at the proficient or advanced level in reading.

Fifty percent of the 253 students tested in reading in District 21 -- Fort Washakie -- scored at a proficient or advanced level.

Trying to change

Ratliff said that several years ago when he met with superintendents from the county's school districts, they tried to identify ways to improve the numbers and came to the conclusion that the issue begins at an early age. For example, he said, a student who enters school two years behind his peers elsewhere in the county is likely to remain two years behind throughout his or her educational career.

"The direction we were going was how can we get more books? How can we get parents to better understand the importance of reading to their kids?" he said. "I don't believe, from the bottom of my heart, that this is a cultural thing, this is a poverty thing."

He said officials have discussed ways to get more teachers out into the communities and homes to help improve attendance. Ratliff requested more support from the committees for the schools that already are trying their best to manage at the local level.

"There is not a school board member on the reservation that doesn't want the best for their children," Ratliff said. "There's a lot of holes; some kids make it, some kids don't."

Rep. John Patton of the JEC offered his full support, but he said that's about all the committee may be able to offer.

"I don't feel like we can tell the Native American population in Fremont County what to do," Patton said. He said he did agree with the resolution passed by the tribes to require students to receive an education until the age of 18 instead of 16.