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Graduation, dropout rates in Colorado Springs area better than state averages

January 18, 2018 Updated: January 18, 2018 at 6:46 pm
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Graduation exercises for Woodland Park High School were held at the Pikes Peak Centerl on Friday, May 26, 2017. Photo by Erica Fellion, The Gazette.

The Pikes Peak region's 17 public school districts are a combined 2½ percent above the statewide 79 percent graduation rate and 0.4 percent below the statewide 2.3 percent dropout rate, according to the Colorado Department of Education.

However, individual districts' results are mixed for the 2016-2017 school year. Six of the area's 17 fall below the state average graduation rate, and six districts have higher dropout rates than the state average, the figures released Thursday showed.

"The goal of all public education is post-secondary, so these graduation rates are showing that our kids are leaving our public schools prepared for their next step, whether that be career or college," said John Fogarty, assistant superintendent for Cheyenne Mountain School District 12.

The southwest Colorado Springs district had a graduation rate of 96.4 percent, the highest among local districts and a 3 percentage-point increase over the previous academic year.

Fogarty said weekly discussions among Cheyenne Mountain High School staff about credit attainment, behavior and attendance help keep students on course.

"They have a handle on how the kids are performing, and our counseling staff is outstanding in tracking those kiddos from freshman through senior year," he said.

Among all local high schools, The Classical Academy High School, in Academy School District 20, recorded the highest graduation rate of 99.3 percent.

Spokeswoman Tisha Harris attributes the accomplishment to "our education staff, parent involvement and meaningful curriculum that leads to low remediation rates."

Parental involvement is part of the charter school's mission statement, she said, and an instructional philosophy team meets regularly to ensure students are learning from the curriculum as they should be.

"If they don't see that, we change it up," Harris said. "We are always evaluating our curriculum."

The Vanguard School, a charter school in Cheyenne Mountain D-12, graduated 98 percent of its seniors, ranking it second-highest among local high schools.

Peyton Senior High School in Peyton School District 23-JT came in third with 97.9 percent, followed by Palmer Ridge High, in Lewis-Palmer School District 38, with 97.2 percent.

The state graduation rate is just a smidgen above the previous year's, up 0.1 percent. But that's enough to make it the highest rate since 2010, according to the data.

Also, the graduation gap between minority and white students continued to narrow in 2017, with a 10.8 percentage-point gap, a decrease of 1.7 percent over the previous year. The four-year statewide graduation rate for minority students is 73.1 percent, an increase of 1.2 percentage points. The American Indian rate is the lowest, at 64.1 percent, followed by Hispanics at 71.1 percent and blacks at 71.9 percent.

Lower graduation rates districtwide often are due to results from alternative schools. For example, Colorado Springs School District 11's four-year graduation rate is 69 percent, the same as the previous year. The number includes seven alternative high schools, which often have many students at risk of dropping out due to various issues.

The four-year graduation rate among D-11's four traditional high schools is 79.05 percent.

"Our numbers are stable, and we have strategies in place for improving all-around student achievement and graduation rates," said D-11 spokeswoman Devra Ashby.

A November 2017 voter-approved property tax increase will boost salaries for teachers and support staff, which Ashby said through recruitment, attraction and retention is projected to increase graduation rates and decrease dropout rates.

"We haven't seen the money yet, we have to collect the taxes and put them to work," she said. "It's going to take a few years to see that."

Falcon School District 49 has the area's lowest graduation rate, of 58 percent, and the highest dropout rate, 9.4 percent. The district has four alternative high schools, with graduation rates that include 38 percent at Goal Academy, an online school. The average graduation rate among D-49's three traditional high schools is 85.1 percent.

Miami-Yoder School District JT-60's graduation rate declined 14.6 percentage points, the most in the region. Peyton School District 23-JT's graduation rate increased 11.2 percentage points, the region's largest gain.

Dropout rates are based on the total number of students from seventh through 12th grade who discontinue their education without receiving credentials or providing adequate documentation of transferring to another educational setting.

This year's statewide dropout rate of 2.3 percent is the same as 2015-16 and, for the second year, reflects an all-time low.

New graduation requirements that begin with the current freshman class require students to demonstrate readiness for career or college in various ways, and administrators expect the graduation rates to dip as a result.

Fogarty said at Cheyenne Mountain High School, "We know there's going to be around 10 percent of our students that will need some extra support to attain one of those graduation guidelines. We're preparing for that now."

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