Iowa’s four-year high school graduation rate continues to approach 90 percent. But only about half of the corridor’s largest school districts are along for the ride.
Iowa Department of Education data released Thursday showed that, of Iowa’s 33,426 first-time ninth-graders in the fall of 2009 or those who transferred into that class, 29,977, or 89.68 percent of them, graduated in four years.
That is an increase from last year, when 89.26 percent of the class of 2012 graduated in four years.
In the past, the education department measured the rate through simple math instead of tracking individual students. Jay Pennington, chief of the bureau of information and analysis services for the education department, said an individualized approach might be helping area districts find success.
“I think, to some extent, districts are able to better track different groups of kids, so the mere fact of implementing an on-track four-year graduation plan has increased the focus of this measure,” Pennington said.
“While (89.68 percent) is a slight increase, it is definitely an increase. … It’s a testament to the hard work of superintendents, high school teachers and counselors looking at their student populations.”
Pennington pointed to additional dollars available to districts to address certain student populations, such as those considered at-risk, and resulting programming – such as credit recovery – addressing graduation as possible sources for the statewide uptick.
“At the state level, we want to provide additional funding to make sure students get across the finish line,” he said.
For students of color, those of low socioeconomic status, students who have Individualized Education Plans and English Language Learners, their four-year high school graduation rates continue to be lower than their peers not in those subgroups. The rate increased for all of those populations between 2012 and 2013, except for black students, who experienced a 0.29 percentage point decline, to 73.82 percent, from 74.11 percent.
“We’re talking about less than 0.3 percent, so I think it’s hard to say why that occurred,” Pennington said of the decrease, which he characterized as “relatively small.”
“I think we would want to dig into different districts and see whether or not their numbers are going up or down,” he said.
Four-year graduation results were mixed for some of the Corridor’s districts. Rates for the College Community, Linn-Mar, Marion and Solon classes of 2013 all exceeded the statewide figure, while percentages at Cedar Rapids, Clear Creek Amana and Iowa City did not.
The four-year graduation rate declined for all of those districts, except for Marion and College Community, which saw one-year increases of 0.94 percentage point and 4.5 percentage points respectively.
Those two districts also had the highest rates out of that group, with Marion at 93.64 percent and College Community at 92.13 percent.
Other districts followed at these percentages:
Marion led the corridor in the measure last year as well, and Superintendent Sarah Pinion said responsibility for that sustained success goes toward a cohesive effort from staff and administrators in kindergarten through grade 12.
“It really is everybody working together to make sure that students are progressing and really have an attitude of ‘every child can learn and every child can progress and we’re going to do everything we can to make that happen,’” she said.
At the high-school level, Pinion said that teachers and counselors work to expose students to career and college options and enroll in “the right classes for learning.” Instructors then are available before school and to form relationships with learners and their parents so that they can accommodate their circumstances.
Erik Anderson, principal at Prairie High School in the College Community School District, attributed the district’s one-year gain to a focus on personal interventions between students, staff, families and administrators.
"Staff are really invested in that as well, (with) a lot more individual meetings to talk and help provide maybe more supports or motivation getting to the end of the road,” he said.
“It’s an extra step that we take that provides another opportunity. I wouldn’t say that always works, but it’s beneficial to many kids. …
"The student is the one what has to do the work. They have the responsibility. Between them and the teacher, that’s where the real work is done,” Anderson said.
On Thursday, the department also released information about the state’s dropout rate for students in grades nine through 12. The state’s overall dropout rate dipped to 2.82 percent, or 4,108 students, in 2012-13 from 3.2 percent in 2011-12.All student subgroups saw decreasing dropout rates, save for Native American students, where the percentage grew to 6.7 percent for 2012-13 from 6.43 percent in 2011-12.