More Johnson County students than ever are earning a Core 40 diploma when they graduate, meeting the state’s baseline requirements for moving on from high school.

And within that group, a growing number of teens are graduating with honors.

Every Johnson County school reported more than 80 percent of its students receiving Core 40 diplomas, with most districts seeing increasing percentages of students receiving the distinction from 2014 to 2016.

More local graduates are also earning the more rigorous honors diplomas, which requires additional math, world language and fine arts credits, as well as maintaining a “B” grade-point average or better.

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“Every student who starts out here, they’re on track for a Core 40 or a Core 40 honors diploma. We just commit to that,” said Todd Garrision, principal of Greenwood Community High School. “We’re setting that expectation, and teachers hold themselves (responsible) for their students’ progress.”

The information is compiled in the annual performance reviews, released by the Indiana Department of Education to provide a well-rounded look at achievement in public schools throughout the state. More than 30 data points, such as graduation rates, number of gifted and talented students and enrollment, are collected from each school district for the public to review.

Other data, such as ISTEP scores and attendance, are spotlighted for individual schools.

Comparing the year-to-year information allows parents and residents to analyze where schools have improved or dropped. They can see how student-to-teacher ratios are changing, or how efforts to prevent students from dropping out are working.

The reports show that enrollment in gifted and talented programs has dropped across the board for Johnson County schools. At the same time, a greater percentage of students are taking Advanced Placement courses.

Those numbers tie into an emphasis on the Core 40 program.

Core 40 is a series of course requirements instituted by the state as the baseline of what students should know as they enter college, apprenticeship programs, military training and the workforce. The focus is on language, math, science and social studies, with additional weight given to electives such as art and foreign language, and health classes.

Comparing the past two graduating classes, nearly every school district in Johnson County increased the percentage of students who earned Core 40 diplomas.

The largest jump was at Edinburgh Community High School, where 87.7 percent of the graduating class in 2016 met Core 40 requirements, compared to 79.3 percent in 2015.

More students are taking advantage of Edinburgh’s participation with C4 Columbus Area Career Connection, which provides career and technical guidance. Last school year, 157 students were involved in the technical program, up from 150 the year before.

Participation in an online alternative academy has provided students who have struggled in traditional classroom settings to find success and meet their graduation requirements, said Kevin Rockey, principal at Edinburgh Middle and High School.

“It’s for kids who learn in a different way, a more adult setting, and they do some online things. That’s helped us have an online curriculum that, as far as getting Core 40, those kids can retake classes online with some assistance and go at their own pace,” he said.

Franklin, Greenwood, Center Grove and Clark-Pleasant schools also reported increases. Schools have taken advantage of online classes and alternative school programs to assist students who otherwise might be at risk of dropping out or only qualifying for a general diploma.

Garrison also credited Greenwood teachers, who have focused on scheduling extra instruction for students before and after school to help those who are struggling to grasp Core 40 material.

“Our teachers encourage that, and it’s way outside the contract time,” he said. “Our teachers are always welcome to come in before or after, and obviously during school, to be available for kids who need a little extra help.”

Only Indian Creek High School failed to see an increase in students taking Core 40 degrees, dropping from 85.8 percent in 2015 to 84.7 percent last year.

But at the same time, Indian Creek saw a massive jump in the percentage of students earning the honors degree. In 2016, 40.7 percent of the graduating class met the more stringent requirements. The school reported 24.8 percent graduating with honors the year before.

All Johnson County schools reported at least 20 percent of graduates earning the honors diploma. Greenwood Community High School had 44 percent of seniors meet the requirement in 2016, the highest in the county.

Younger students now have more and more opportunity to take high school-level classes in foreign language, science and math than ever before. Dual-credit courses at area colleges has also provided increased opportunities for students.

“We have more options than we used to have to help kids individualize things,” Rockey said. “There’s more flexibility for them.”

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Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.