Feb 25, 2014 1:21 AM by Lindsey Gordon (

Capital High School sees spike in graduation rate, lags in remediation rates

HELENA - "Congratulations to Capital, it's a large jump in percentage, and we're excited for them, we're very excited for them," said Greg Upham, the Helena Public Schools assistant superintendent in regards to a 10% jump in Capital High School's graduation rate.

When the numbers were released in a report by the Montana Office of Public Instruction, everyone was a bit surprised, according to Upham.

The numbers show that in the 2012 to 2013 school year, Helena High School saw a graduation rate of 81.61% and Capital High School saw a rate of 93.49%.

But according to Upham, these numbers don't include those students who got a GED or took longer than four years and a summer to graduate. The cohort graduation tracks the class from when they enter as high school freshmen to when they graduate.

"If you think a lot of our average class sizes are 300, so 10% of that would be 30," said Brett Zanto, Capital's principal, about how many more students graduated in 2013 over 2012.

But a 10% jump in the grad rate may be hard to explain: "And this jump is major in comparison to the rest of the state, too. There aren't any other schools, AA schools, that have shown this type of gain," said Upham.

But school officials attribute it to rolling up their sleeves.

"So it's a variety of factors, but really it's just trying to make sure students don't fall through the cracks," said Zanto.

So why Capital High over Helena High? Both schools are working to raise the graduation number through various programs, according to Upham.

"The schools are different, there are some differences in socio-demographics, but as far as graduation rates, they've been fairly similar. This is the only year that we've seen this gap.

Zanto admits that his school faces similar challenges, but not to the extreme that Helena High does.

Upham said another big indicator that plays along with graduation rates are remediation rates, which tracks incoming college freshman who have to take remedial math or writing courses.

That number could be more telling than graduation rates.

"It says what kind of a job we're doing preparing students [for] postsecondary," said Zanto.

Statewide data from OPI shows about 28% of freshman at Montana public colleges coming from public high schools had to take at least one remedial course.

The data for the local high school breakdown on the OPI website is only as recent as 2010.

That year Capital High had a higher graduation rate than Helena High, but 35% of freshman had to take remedial courses, over just 27% from Helena.

By comparison, the statewide remediation rate was at 30%.

As the data lags behind, it is too soon to tell how the class of 2013 from both schools compare in college readiness.

"It's a one year piece, so we'll take a look at it and see if that continues," said Upham.

Zanto adds, "You know there's always going to be a different make-up, students are different, so obviously it's very interesting to see what they will be."


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