Michael Wack, left, and Maddy Walsh adjust their caps as they file into the Gill Center before Westminster High School's 114th Annual Graduation Exercises at McDaniel College in Westminster Sunday, June 8, 2014.
Michael Wack, left, and Maddy Walsh adjust their caps as they file into the Gill Center before Westminster High School's 114th Annual Graduation Exercises at McDaniel College in Westminster Sunday, June 8, 2014. (DYLAN SLAGLE/ STAFF FILE PHOTO)

Carroll County was the only school system in the state with a graduation rate of 95 percent or higher in 2014, according to data released Tuesday by the state Department of Education.

Meanwhile, Maryland's high school graduation rate increased for the fourth year in a row, with just more than 86 percent of high school students earning their diploma on time this past school year.

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Carroll County Public Schools Superintendent Steve Guthrie said there are three reasons for the county's unparalleled success.

"We have committed staff; we have dedicated students; and we have a supportive community," Guthrie said. "These three are essential for any school system to be successful. If you don't have them all, you can only get part of the way there."

Federal law mandates that graduation rates greater than 95 or dropout rates less than 1 percent can't be made public because such small margins could allow those who didn't graduate or dropped out to be identified.

The graduation rates are measured using a cohort system, implemented in 2006, which tracks all children who enroll in public school from the point they enter in ninth grade to the time of graduation, said Greg Bricca, director of research and accountability for CCPS.

For decades, the state used a leaver system, which measured the number of graduates per year against the combined number of graduates and dropouts, The problem with that system is the possibility of someone being counted twice for dropping out, Bricca said.

"If someone drops out in 11th grade then re-enrolls and then drops out again during senior year, that one person would be accounted for twice," Bricca said.

The most encouraging news in the data is that Maryland students from all minority groups accounted for are making gains. The graduation rate for African Americans rose from 76 percent to 81 percent over the past four years. Even greater numbers of special education students, who have had difficulty getting a diploma in the past, are finding their way to the stage each June.

Only students who are learning English — often the state's most recent immigrants — are losing ground, according to the data.

Maryland State Superintendent of Education Lillian Lowery said school systems have become more adept at using test data to find students who need extra help.

"We have become far more proficient at looking at the data … We can go in and target students more directly. Many of our districts have remedial and enrichment opportunities," she said.

Maryland's graduation rate was more than 5 percentage points above the national average last year. National statistics have not been released yet for 2014.

In the Baltimore region, every system saw an increase except Howard County, which declined by less than half a percentage point.

Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties are now graduating 88 percent of their students in four years. The graduation rate rose 2.2 percent in Anne Arundel and 1.3 percent in Baltimore County.

Baltimore City remains the school district with the lowest graduation rate in the state, but its progress over time has exceeded nearly every district.

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Two Eastern Shore counties — Somerset and Dorchester — made significant progress amid lower income populations. Dorchester County's graduation rate rose 5 percentage points to 87.9 percent, while Somerset rose 8.5 percentage points to 86 percent.

Only Howard, Caroline, Washington and Frederick counties saw decreases; most were slight.

Reach staff writer Wiley Hayes at 410-857-3315 or wiley.hayes@carrollcountytimes.com.

Graduation percentages for Carroll County Public Schools

School / 2014 / 2013

Francis Scott Key / 94.9 / ≥ 95

Liberty/ ≥ 95 / ≥ 95

Century / ≥ 95 / ≥ 95

Manchester Valley / ≥ 95 / ≥ 95

Winters Mill / 94.03 / ≥ 95

Westminster / ≥ 95 / ≥ 95

North Carroll / ≥ 95 / ≥ 95

South Carroll / ≥ 95 / 93.87

Gateway School / 54.55 / 43.24

Flexible Student Support / 70.91 / 61.9

All Carroll schools / 95 / 94.41

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