National high school graduation rates are improving, and McPherson rates are consistently higher than state levels.

National high school graduation rates are improving, and McPherson rates are consistently higher than state levels.

A recent report by the U.S. Department of Education showed the national rate is the highest since 1976. In 2010, about 78 percent of students earned their degrees on time.

According to the Kansas Department of Education, McPherson graduation rates have fluctuated between 2001 and 2011, but also have improved in recent years, ranging from its lowest point at 90.7 percent in 2007 and 2002 to its highest at 95.9 percent in 2009.

It is difficult to compare McPherson data from year to year or to national numbers, however. This is because calculation formulas vary between states, and in Kansas' case, even between years. Three different formulas were used between 2001-2011 in Kansas.

Beginning in 2010, the U.S. Department of Education required a standardized calculation. Only students who graduate in four years with their classes are counted in the graduation rate. The change caused most schools' rates to drop.

The most recent data shows an increase in graduation rates in McPherson from 88.7 percent for the 2010 class to a 91.7 percent for the 2011 graduating class.

McPherson High School Principal Bret McClendon said McPherson's graduation trends are because families and students are realizing the increasing importance of a high school diploma.

"There's much more of a focus now than there was earlier," McClendon said. "The value of a high school education and the value of a college education is much more important in the job market, and I think kids are seeing that."

This year also was the first year the district required incoming freshman to take the ACT WorkKeys test, an assessment that measures foundational and soft skills. This will help them be better prepared for the working world.

McPherson's dropout rates also have decreased recently, going from 1.4 percent in 2010 to 0.8 percent in 2011.

McClendon said McPherson has several ways to keep students in school.

The district's alternative school aids students considering drop out.

The district's Citizenship, College and Career Readiness initiative strives to work toward whatever goals the students are wanting to achieve after graduation.

"When we really have those honest conversations, kids understand that's a stepping stone to get where they want," he said.

This approach is key to higher graduation rates.

"Our focus has been what happens after high school and not just getting them through," McClendon said. "Talking through that viewpoint helps them understand they need a high school diploma before they start the rest of their life."

Contact Jenae Pauls at and follow her on Twitter @PaulsSentinel