(MOBILE, Ala.) New data from the Department of Education says Alabama's high school graduation rate is 72%--that's 40th in the nation. Mobile County's graduation rate is even lower--64% for the year ending in 2011.
"Are we satisfied? No," says Mobile County Schools Superintendent Martha Peek. "Are we moving in the right direction? Yes."
The is the first year national data has been released that tracks kids all four years of high school using a universal system. Peek says that's part of the problem. Until now, the district hasn't kept track of why certain kids who started in the district never finished.
"Whether they've gone to home school, whether they've moved out of state, even if someone has been in the hospital or something has happened," Peek says. "Just the actual physical tracking of the students is a challenge."
Each one of those unaccounted kids--about 1,600 of them this year alone--counts against Mobile County's numbers. The district is working to correct that.
As a state, Alabama ranks among the worst five when it comes to graduating kids with disabilities and those who don't speak English fluently. Peek says Mobile County has specific programs in place to target those kids.
"Particularly when English is a second language, there are a lot of barriers that have to be overcome with just understanding the language and comprehending in order to move forward," she says. "Our ELL students have made a lot of progress."
The district also has after school and evening programs that cater to kids who may have parenting responsibilities or who work during the day to help provide for their families.
The numbers for Mobile County aren't all bad. The county has made significant gains in the last few years, bringing the graduation rate from 56% in 2009 to the current 64%. Numbers for the 2011-2012 school year will be released in the coming months.