On-time graduation rates have improved sharply at both Longview high schools, particularly at R.A. Long, which was dubbed a "drop out factory" by a university study in 2007.
Some of the improvement is due to better record keeping, but some is likely due to improved efforts to prevent dropouts, school officials told the Longview School Board on Monday
According to preliminary district and state figures presented to the board, the number of R.A. Long students graduating on time has nearly doubled since 2003-04, when only 43 percent graduated on time. Last school year, 71 percent graduated on time, up from 59 percent the year before. The dropout rate at R.A. Long last year was 8 percent, the lowest in at least a decade.
"This has been one of the brighter reports I've seen all year," Longview board member Ted Thomas said.
On-time graduation rates also have improved steadily at Mark Morris. It, too, had it's lowest dropout rate of the decade in 2009-10 — 4 percent.
The report represents a dramatic turnaround for R.A. Long especially, which was blasted in a 2007 Johns Hopkins University study for a high dropout rate.
Chris Fritsch, executive director of leadership and learning, told the board of two possible causes for the improvement.
First, the district is doing a better job tracking students who moved out of the district or enrolled into another program, such as Running Start. Losing track of students can make the district's graduation rate look worse, he said.
"It was a matter of house cleaning," Fritsch said. "We needed to get students coded properly."
Second, Fritsch pointed to the district's On-Track Academy, an alternative program that allows students who have dropped out the chance to re-enroll in school and earn a diploma.
"We had high hopes that this program would give us that boost," he said.
The district's goal for next year is a 5 percent to 7 percent increase in on-time graduation rates, Fritsch said. The district plans to do that by further refining its tracking of students and continuing to reach out to struggling students through the On-Track academy, he added.
Superintendent Suzanne Cusick is confident this approach will work to improve the data next year.
"I would like to see the graduation rates in the 90s and the drop-out rates reduce to 2 or 3 percent," Cusick said. "I know we can get there."