Anoka-Hennepin works to improve graduation rate

Staff Writer
Since 2013, I have primarily covered the Anoka-Hennepin and Spring Lake Park school districts as well as the city of Spring Lake Park for ABC Newspapers.

Anoka-Hennepin administrators outlined efforts to increase graduation rates to the School Board earlier this month.

Coon Rapids High School has the lowest graduation rate in the district, but it is still higher than the state’s graduation rate as a whole. Anoka-Hennepin has many strategies in place to boost graduation rates across the system. File photo
Coon Rapids High School has the lowest graduation rate in the district, but it is still higher than the state’s graduation rate as a whole. Anoka-Hennepin has many strategies in place to boost graduation rates across the system. File photo

Though graduation rates declined slightly in 2016, they are up 10 percent in the last decade.

“When you’re talking about education data, it’s really almost impossible to have a never-dipping trendline,” said Jeff McGonigal, associate superintendent for secondary schools. “We have lots of other indicators that lead me to believe that things are going in the right direction.”

Anoka-Hennepin’s four-year graduation rate sat at 83.4 percent in 2016, 1.2 percentage points above the state as a whole. The previous year marked a high for the district with 85.8 percent of students graduating in four years, but the 2016 rate is still an improvement from 2013 and 2014 when 81.3 percent and 81.6 percent, respectively, graduated.

Andover High School has the highest graduation rate in the district at 95.9 percent. Coon Rapids High School has the lowest, 13 percentage points lower at 82.9 percent.

“Educational data is impacted by so many things that have to do with the cohort of students,” McGonigal said. “Their experiences are not the same … and their needs aren’t the same.”

Data for 2017 will be available from the state in early 2018.

It is important for administrators to show the board and broader community that graduation rates are not trending up by accident, McGongial said. “It’s purposeful. We are doing things that are leading to these improved graduation rates.”

Interventions help struggling students stay on course.

In the event students do fail a course, credit recovery is immediate, focusing on specific targets students have not achieved, rather than repeating the entire course again.

Some initiatives were started years ago, like hiring student achievement advocates to help students and families feel connected to school.

Others are new or not yet implemented.

Naviance was fully up and running in the district in 2014, allowing students access to tools designed to help them navigate next steps in becoming college and career ready.

A Bridge to College pilot out of Anoka High School expanded to all five traditional high schools ahead of the 2016-2017 school year. College Foundations Intermediate Algebra serves freshmen in the academic middle. The School Board will examine data from a similarly designed English class for Anoka High School sophomores in the academic middle in the coming months to see if that program has boosted college readiness.

Work to bolster secondary math curriculum and instruction will continue in the coming year, the second of the Secondary Math Plan.

Starting this fall, social studies teachers will take on more responsibility for reading development to spur students to read at or above grade level.

“English teachers don’t own all of the reading work,” McGonigal said.

A pilot will free up social studies teachers for one period of the day at Anoka and Coon Rapids high schools to lead work on reading improvement.

If students do not graduate in four years, the district does not give up on them.

The district’s program for 18- to 21-year-old students, Anoka-Hennepin Technical High School, meets on the Anoka Technical College campus, allowing students to finish their high school requirements and start postsecondary work simultaneously in many cases.

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