SLHS scores high

Saranac Lake High School had the highest graduation rate among Tri-Lakes area school districts last year, according to data released this week by the state Education Department.

The graduation rate for students who entered Saranac Lake schools as ninth-graders in 2008 was 88.5 percent. That’s just below a 90 percent goal set three years ago as part of a graduation rate initiative among the nine school districts that comprise the Franklin-Essex-Hamilton Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

St. Regis Falls was the only district in FEH-BOCES to exceed the 90 percent threshold, with 91.2 percent of its students from 2008 graduating last year. A group of schools came in just below the 90 percent goal, including Chateaugay at 88.9 percent, Brushton-Moira at 88.7 percent, Saranac Lake at 88.5 and Long Lake at 87.5 percent.

The combined graduation rate for all nine districts was 81.3 percent. The statewide graduation rate was 74 percent.

Saranac Lake

SLHS Principal Bruce Van Weelden presented the graduation rate data to the Saranac Lake school board at its meeting Wednesday night.

He also highlighted another measurement of his students’ success that he said was even more important, dubbed “aspirational performance measures.” APM, as it’s called, is designed to be a benchmark for students’ college and career readiness. It measures the percentage of students who graduated with an advanced Regents diploma, scored 75 or higher on the English language arts Regents exam and scored 80 or higher on a Regents exam in math in June of their senior year.

In FEH-BOCES, Saranac Lake was at the top of the APM list for students who started high school in 2008 and graduated last year; its rate was 40.5 percent. Long Lake’s APM was 37.5 percent, while Tupper Lake’s was 32.4 percent. The other districts in FEH-BOCES were at or below 30 percent APM.

“Not only are we making gains in the graduation rate, but we’re also not sacrificing quality in doing so,” Van Weelden said. “We’re turning out the most prepared students in the region.”

Van Weelden noted that, historically, the APM numbers have been higher for each school district. Last year, Saranac Lake’s was more than 50 percent.

“The reason for that is the difficulty of the test of the cohort,” he said. “If the ELA exam that year is harder, you’re going to have a lower percentage, but that’s true for every district. I actually had to calculate this number for the 11th-graders who took the ELA this year, and we’re at 60 percent for that group. Historically, we’re in the neighborhood of 50 and rising. It just happened to be an anomaly this year.”

This is Van Weelden’s last year as principal of the high school. He’ll take over as Saranac Lake Middle School principal this fall as part of a reshuffling of the district’s administrators.

Lake Placid

The numbers for Lake Placid High School’s 2008-12 cohort – 72.9 percent graduation rate and 24.3 percent APM – were low enough to surprise Roger Catania. Although he’s only in his fourth week as superintendent of the Lake Placid Central School District, he was closely involved with managing LPHS’s data from 1997 to 2009, when he previously worked for the district.

“That’s an aberration” from rates over the last 10 to 15 years, he said.

Catania said he’s not sure what happened, and after Friday’s graduation he planned to wade back into the pool of data to figure it out.

“One of the things I need to look at is, how are these students being counted, and is it accurate, or is there some miscalculation somewhere?” he said.

In his time handling the data, he said, “We were striving for accuracy and striving to understand where we were, and I know our numbers were typically mid-80s graduation rate and into the 90s.” In the last few weeks, he said he hasn’t seen that kind of drop-off in kids’ or teachers’ performance.

The APM is a new measure that didn’t exist during Catania’s last stint here. When asked to comment on LPHS’s APM score being lower than its neighbors’ he said, “That is supposed to be a indicator of college readiness, and I guess what I would say to that is that our graduates are pretty successful.”