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A focus on instruction and promoting the importance of a high school diploma has graduation rates rising in Charles County, school system staff said.

Overall, Charles County saw an increase of 1 percentage point from 88 percent graduating on time in 2011 to 89 percent last year, based on four-year cohort graduation data for the class of 2012 released by the Maryland State Department of Education earlier this month.

According to MSDE, the four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate is the number of students who graduate in four years with a regular high school diploma divided by the number of students who form the adjusted cohort for the graduating class.

It follows a class of students from their freshman year, subtracting the number of students who transferred out and adding anyone who transferred into the class.

Five of the six high schools increased their rates overall and in various subgroups.

Subgroups are selected by race, gender, special education status, limited English proficiency and students receiving free or reduced-price meals.

North Point High School had the highest graduation rate, more than 95 percent.

MSDE does not indicate scores higher than 95 percent or lower than 5 percent.

Thomas Stone High School improved the most, from 83.7 percent in 2011 to 88.6 percent last year.

Stone Principal Michael Meiser said there wasn’t just one thing he could single out that caused the increase.

The graduating class of 2012, he said, was a great class with very competitive students.

He said staff play a big role in helping students reach their graduation goals and that many staff take time outside of their regular working hours to work with students on preparing for graduation, particularly when it comes to helping prepare students for High School Assessments, end-of-course exams tied to graduation.

When it comes to where the focus is at Stone, Meiser said, “Our focus is always going to be on just good instruction ... raising the rigor and expectations on all students.”

Meiser said focusing on subgroups is important but that the tricky part comes when focusing on one and potentially losing focus on another.

He said the idea is to look at how to get those who need to improve to do so while keeping an eye on groups that are doing well and maintaining their progress.

Maurice J. McDonough was the only high school to see a decrease last year, with 86 percent of its 2012 students graduating on time, compared to 90 percent of its students graduating in 2011.

Even with a decrease, McDonough bested state graduation numbers, as did the rest of the Charles high schools.

The four-year graduation rate for the state reached 83 percent for 2012, an increase over the score of 82.8 percent from the year before.

La Plata High School reached 93 percent; Westlake, 88 percent and Henry E. Lackey, 85 percent.

North Point Principal Kimberly Hill said there is no secret to North Point and schools across the county when it comes to raising graduation rates, just focusing on getting students to focus on the importance of getting a high school diploma.

The dropout rate for Charles County for the class of 2012 was 5.8 percent, an improvement of 9.7 percent over the year before.

gphillips@somdnews.com