At the beginning of the school year, only 54 percent of Akron Public Schools seniors were on track to graduate.

But since the state implemented alternative paths to graduation for the class at the academic year’s start, the district has not only raised that by nearly 40 percentage points — it’s come the closest it’s been in more than 35 years to reaching its target graduation rate.

In a presentation to the Akron school board during its regular meeting Monday night, Mark Black, the district’s executive director of secondary schools, said he projects 93 percent of the district’s current seniors will graduate on time this year.

That’s a rough estimate, Black stressed, because students have the potential to get off track before the end of the year. Plus, the state includes other factors in a district’s overall graduation rate, including students who transferred out of the district and are attending another school, or students who transferred into the district.

Regardless, the overall graduation rate for 2018 is set to be the closest it’s been in decades to the district’s goal of 93 percent.

The district’s overall four-year graduation rate last year was 74 percent. That rate saw a little boost to about 82 percent when counting only students who spend all four years in the district.

But the district coming short of its graduation goals is a statewide problem that a committee, which included Akron Superintendent David James, set out to resolve at the school year’s start.

Ohio students have a few ways they can graduate, but a majority have to take all seven state end-of-course exams, earn a minimum combined total of 18 points from those exams and take 21 credits throughout high school.

For those students who weren’t able to earn enough points on their state exams, even after retests, state educators developed nine alternatives that the class of 2018 only could complete to graduate. Students have to fulfill two of the nine, which are;:

• Having an attendance rate of 93 percent senior year.

• Earning a GPA of 2.5 or higher in all courses senior year.

• Completing a capstone project that explores a personal interest in-depth.

• Completing 120 community service hours senior year.

• Earning three or more College Credit Plus credits any year of high school.

• Earning credit for Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate coursework and earning an AP exam score of at least 3 and an IB exam score of at least 4 any year of high school.

• Earning a WorkKeys (career readiness assessment) exam score of 3 or higher on each of three test sections.

• Earning an industry recognized credential.

• Meeting the OhioMeansJobs Readiness Seal requirements.

At the beginning of the school year, Black and others on a graduation committee identified the seniors — 537 of 1,444 — who were meeting their attendance requirements, but not earning enough points on state exams. There were 129 additional seniors who were not on track to graduate because of poor attendance.

Students who were short on points were required to complete a “senior project” class from October until the end of the year, in which they were paired with mentors and teachers outside of school hours to help them fulfill their requirements.

“Mentors and advisers did a lot of hand-holding,” said Marcie Ebright, the district’s digital learning specialist who was on the graduation committee.

All students in that course completed a capstone project as their first requirement, and then they could choose their second to fulfill. Some opted for the higher GPA and attendance, but Ebright said community service was popular as well — in all, seniors clocked 46,000 hours of service this year.

Of the 537 who were identified as needing more points, only 25 have yet to reach their requirements.

The state continued to add and change requirements as the year went on, which complicated the process, Black said. But overall, he and his team agree that the updated requirements allow a student to demonstrate his or her abilities much better than on a test.

“When we allow for students to navigate their journey and connect it to the real world, and not just a test, they see the benefit and they make it happen,” Black said.

The state is still determining what the graduation requirements will be for students graduating next year and beyond.

I Promise update

The school board also heard updates Monday about the I Promise School building, which will open in July at 400 W. Market St. The building is currently the district’s swing space that houses other schools that need a temporary location, including Case Elementary, which is moving out of the space this summer into its own building.

Debra Foulk, the executive director of business affairs for APS, said people will be working on revamping the space physically from now until it’s opened. The changes, which include a black-and-white color scheme, clean designs and altered landscaping, will be proposed to the board for final approval in the upcoming months.

“As you drive by, more than likely you will see the lights on 24/7,” Foulk said.

Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or tcottom@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom.