High school graduation rates in the Colorado Springs area outpaced statewide rates, which continued to inch upward last year, according to statistics released Thursday by the Colorado Department of Education. Dropout rates also are showing slight improvement.
Statewide, 78.9 percent of students in the class of 2016 graduated from high school in four years, up from 77.3 percent in 2015. And 2.3 percent, or 10,530 middle and high school students, dropped out in 2016, down from 2.5 percent in 2015.
The average graduation rate among the Pikes Peak region's 17 public school districts is 80.4 percent, a hair above the 2015 average of 80.1 percent.
"Graduation rates let us know how many students meet the community's expectations - including parents, teachers, school board members, colleges, employers and other stakeholders - to earn a diploma," said Lori Benton, director of secondary learning services for Lewis-Palmer School District 38 in Monument.
D-38 topped the chart of local districts, posting a 94.8 percent graduation rate for last May.
Keys to success are "motivated students" and "a supportive community," Benton said.
Manitou Springs School District 14 had the second highest rate with 93.7 percent, and Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 followed with 93.4 percent.
The region's largest district, Colorado Springs School District 11, had a graduation rate of 69.7 percent, up from 68.5 percent in 2015.
D-11 has increased its district-wide rate for the past three years, said spokeswoman Devra Ashby.
"We're happy for the upward trend, which shows the supports we have in place are working," she said.
The district-wide rate includes the four traditional high schools and eight alternative education centers, which serve students who have had difficulties in other settings.
D-11's graduation rate for its four traditional schools improved from 80.2 percent in 2015 to 81.5 percent in 2016, Ashby said.
The district's dropout rate among middle and high school students also is continuing to head in a positive direction, dropping to 2.5 percent, down from 3.3 percent in 2015. Among alternative schools the dropout rate fell from 13.3 percent in 2015 to 9.6 percent in 2016.
"That's a big improvement," Ashby said. "It shows we're recovering those students - bringing them back and helping them graduate."
Education officials now are preparing for the fall implementation of new, more rigorous graduation requirements which potentially could affect rates. The changes are designed to help students be more prepared for life after high school, whether they choose to go to college, a trade school, the military or straight into the workforce.
Starting with sixth-graders in the fall, students will start looking at their options, setting goals and identifying steps to reach them. Freshmen will examine the ways by which they can demonstrate their readiness for college and careers.
Benton said the stepped-up graduation requirements will "help provide even more credence" to earning a high school diploma from Lewis-Palmer D-38.
Work has already begun in D-11 on developing an "individual career and academic plan," one of the new requirements for students in the class of 2021, Ashby said.
It's going to take a community effort, she said, and involve businesses and nonprofit organizations in helping students to do job shadowing and internships.
"We're excited to see our students face a new rigor," Ashby said. "The new requirements seem to fit with what we have been doing."