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Cabell school board updated on spending

Sep. 03, 2013 @ 11:00 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Cabell County Schools spent nearly $500,000 last school year to help students avoid being held back.

Jeff Smith, assistant superintendent for School Improvement, gave school board members a short presentation at Tuesday evening's meeting that he summed up by saying it's money well spent.

According to figures he presented, the number of students who were retained has dropped by a full percent since the 2010-2011 school year. That year, there were 12,552 students enrolled, with 526 made to repeat their grade.

During the 2011-2012 school year, overall enrollment increased to 12,700, while retention numbers dropped to 457. Last school year, enrollment again climbed, reaching 12,880. But the number of students retained dropped to 404.

The decreases also are coming at all levels, with the most dramatic results in middle school. Three years ago, 87 of 2,683 students were held back. That dropped to 47 last year, even as enrollment reached 2,787.

The high school figures fell from 285 to 249 to 236 in the past three years. Enrollment during those times stayed rather steady, averaging about 3,500.

Elementary retention rates also decreased from 154 three years ago to 121 last year.

Jeff Smith said the results all point back to the programs that half a million dollars is supporting, including a graduation coach at each high school ($119,888); evening school, Saturday school, after-school tutoring and summer school ($90,789); critical skills interventionists for kindergarten through fifth grade ($200,000); Odysseyware software ($60,000); and PLATO software ($38,100)."

"Yes, I think it's worth every penny," he said. "We're seeing results."

Superintendent William Smith added that graduation rates have gone up, while dropout rates have gone down, leading him to say he also supports how the money is being spent.

Jeff Smith said the high school programs all involve credit recovery, which allow students to recover credits using the software programs without having to repeat an entire grade or retake the whole course.

He said that concept is being rolled out into middle schools, where research has shown that students held back in those grades are at a much higher risk of dropping out.

Board member Garland Parsons said he wasn't quite sold on the idea that a student who failed a class in sixth grade still gets to proceed to seventh grade, likening it to youth sports, where everyone gets a trophy simply for showing up.

"We don't want everyone to get a trophy," Jeff Smith said. "We want them to earn a trophy."

He added that passing a student on to seventh grade doesn't mean he or she gets a free pass. Instead, they can use catch-up time built into the school day to recover the course they failed. In other words, he said students must still be accountable.

Bill Smith said a student who is retained once is already at risk for dropping out. But someone who is held back twice will most likely quit when they turn 18.

"We all get second chances," Jeff Smith said. "With credit recovery, we're giving students second chances but also holding them accountable."

The next board meeting is at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 17, at 2850 5th Ave., Huntington.

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