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Graduation rate climbs two points, tops state mark

The graduation rate for Lenoir County Public Schools continued its steady climb with the Class of 2021, jumping nearly 2 percentage points from the previous year and exceeding the state average for the first time since at least 2006.

Data reported by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction last week put the 2020-2021 combined four-year cohort graduation rate for LCPS’s five high schools at 87.2 percent, up from 85.4 percent in 2019-2020.

In graduation on football field, seniors in black gowns top their hats in the air in celebration.The state average for the Class of 2021 was 86.9 percent, compared to 87.6 percent for the previous school year.

“I was very pleased by the N.C. Public Schools Graduation Report highlighting the LCPS trend of increased graduation rates for our district and for our individual schools. This record of continuous improvement over time is possible because of the work of many stakeholders,” Superintendent Brent Williams said. 

“I want to thank our students, teachers, parents, administrators and the larger overall community of volunteers, advocates and other supporters for their united efforts to support not only this improvement work, but also everything that we are doing together for the young people that we serve.”  

The most current four-year cohort rate tracks the percentage of students who entered high school as freshmen in 2017-2018 and earned a diploma in 2020-2021 or earlier.

“The process requires tracking students throughout the state and U.S. No matter where students are, they have four years to complete high school to positively impact the cohort graduation rate,” Brian Corey explained. Corey, the district’s director of testing and accountability, works with principals and others to generate graduation rates annually.

LCPS has been narrowing the gap between the state average and its own district graduation rate for the past 15 years – the earliest year reported by NCDPI is 2006 – but has closed dramatically since 2017. In that five-year span, the state average has gone from 86.5 to 86.9 percent and LCPS has climbed from 81.7 to 87.2 percent.

All three of the district’s traditional high schools and Lenoir County Early College High School posted year-to-year gains in the graduation rate between 2020 and 2021. North Lenoir High showed the largest increase, going to 90.7 from 86.9 percent, with South Lenoir close behind (89.2 vs. 86.7). Kinston High gained a tenth of a point to 85.9 percent and Early College continued to graduate 100 percent of its four-year cohort in 2021.

District-wide, year-over-year increases continued in virtually all subgroup categories, with gains made independent of gender, race or economic status.

The graduation rate for Hispanic students improved to 91.7 percent from 88.6 between 2020 and 2021; and for Black students, the rate went to 85.6 from 84.8. Nearly 92 percent of females in the cohort graduated on time, compared to 88.8 percent in 2020. The largest gain was made by those 252 students in the cohort classified as economically disadvantaged – a jump of nearly 7 percentage points to 82.1 percent for 2021.

“We look forward to a continuation of this trend of improvement as our outstanding teachers and other staff members join with parents and the larger community to continue to move forward with an inspiring and unyielding level of determination to do all that they can to keep all of our students in school and to provide for them the best and most effective learning opportunities every day,” Williams said. 

Though the coronavirus pandemic impacted the 2020-2021 school year, grading and testing looked more normal than in the previous school year, when grading essentially ended as classroom were shuttered in March 2020 and standardized testing, including high school exams, were cancelled.

“Students who graduated in Lenoir County satisfied North Carolina’s course and credit requirements within four years,” Corey said. “It is encouraging to know that even in a pandemic, students are rising to meet expectations to become productive citizens beyond high school.”

Photo caption:

North Lenoir High School seniors celebrate at the conclusion of their graduation ceremony May 27. With a gain of nearly four points in the 2020-2021 graduation rate, North Lenoir paced the district as LCPS continued its steady improvement and eclipsed the state four-year cohort graduation rate.