Mirroring the state as a whole, most public high schools in the Capital area slid in May 2016, as smaller percentages of their students landed diplomas compared to the year before, according to numbers released Friday.

East Baton Rouge, Ascension, St. Helena, and Pointe Coupee were the only school districts that improved in the percentage of students who graduated. 

The decline, similar to the rest of Louisiana, reversed a trend of steady, year-after-year increases in high school graduation rates.Of the 12 traditional public school districts in the nine-parish Capital area, eight declined in 2016 compared with 2015. All eight declined by more than 0.5 percentage points, which was also the rate of decline for the entire state.

The Capital area includes East Baton Rouge Parish and the eight parishes that touch it: Ascension, East Feliciana, Iberville, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, St. Helena, West Baton Rouge and West Feliciana.

East Baton Rouge has its traditional parish school system, as well as independent school districts in Baker, Central and Zachary.

The Louisiana Department of Education on Friday did not release results for individual high schools. The district results, however, are tantamount to the same thing in seven of the 12 Capital area districts that have only one high school. Those districts with one high school are Baker, Central, Zachary, and East Feliciana, West Feliciana, St. Helena, and Pointe Coupee parishes. 

The biggest decline was in Baker. That district’s only high school, Baker High School, posted a graduation rate of 60.5 percent, 9 percentage points lower than in 2015 and 20.7 points lower than in 2014.

Baker Superintendent Herman Brister Sr. chalked up much of the decline to not following up enough to determine where students end up after they transfer out of Baker High School. He said he’s pushing school staff to do a better job on this front.

“When you can’t track where 30 of your students went, it’s gonna impact your data pretty hard,” Brister said.

Of the four local districts that improved, St. Helena improved the most. A total of 73.5 percent of its ninth-graders who started school in fall 2012 made it to graduation on time in 2016. That graduation rate is up 8.9 percentage points over 2015 and 19.2 percentage points from 2013. That’s one of the strongest growth rates in the state.

Reginald Douglas was the principal at St. Helena during that time. In April, he took on a new challenge when accepted the position of principal of Istrouma High School in Baton Rouge, which is set to reopen in August.

Douglas said he worked to improve academic focus of all teachers, from math teacher to physical education teachers, and said the effort has been showing results.

"We created a culture of academic excellence and people are starting to buy into St. Helena.

He said the most recent graduating Class of 2017 was even stronger than the Class of 2016, so he expects its graduation rate to be even higher.

Ascension and East Baton Rouge Parish were the only larger school districts in the Baton Rouge area that improved, 0.2 and 0.6 percentage points, respectively. East Baton Rouge Parish, the second largest school district in Louisiana, improved for the second year in a row, but it’s 67.8 percent graduation rate in 2016 is still 0.8 percentage points below the rate of its best graduating Class in 2013.

East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Warren Drake said he’s proud to have more students graduating high school even as the state declined on this front. He credits school employees for the improvement, but said the school system still lags too far behind where it should be.

“We’re not at the percentage we want to be,” he said. “We’ve got to get better.”

The results released Friday cover students who graduated before the August floods. That month 10 East Baton Rouge Parish public schools flooded, including one high school, Glen Oaks High. Drake said the flood will have an effect on the numbers from the Class of 2017, but he’s not sure how big it will be.

“It’s a huge unknown this year with the flood and all the displaced students, but I’m hugely confident in our staff,” Drake said.

Despite the overall trend of declines, five Baton Rouge area school districts still graduated students at a higher rate than the 77 percent statewide who graduated on time in 2016.

They include Ascension, Livingston, West Baton Rouge and West Feliciana parishes, as well as Central and Zachary. They ranged from 77.7 percent in West Baton Rouge to a 89 percent in Zachary.

Despite declining 2.4 percentage points, Zachary’s 2016 graduation rate was still good, dropping its rank in this measure from seventh to 13th highest in the state.

The national average, from the Class of 2015, is 83.2 percent.

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier