2019 Achieve Online and The Digital High School Graduation

Graduation exercises for Achieve Online and The Digital High School were held at Roy J. Wasson Academic Campus on May 23, 2019.

The collective graduation rate for the Pikes Peak region’s 17 public school districts lags behind the latest statewide rate of 81.1%, according to data the Colorado Department of Education released Tuesday.

The overall graduation rate in May 2019 for the 17 local districts was 75.4%, a Gazette analysis shows. That’s a drop of 1.3 percentage points over 2018.

The decline was fueled by a 7.6 percentage point decrease in District 49 to 48.5% — or less than half of the students graduating. The district, the region’s third largest, has a statewide online charter high school, GOAL High School, which historically has skewed D-49’s numbers.

Most major districts in El Paso and Teller counties experienced improved graduation rates.

Harrison School District 2, where three-fourths of the students enrolled are from low-income families and three-fourths identify as minorities, saw the biggest jump among the largest districts, rising from 79.8% to 83.3% in 2019.

“We’ve done a really good job of making sure our kids have what they need to graduate, keeping them on track, making sure they’re in classes and getting the right supports and not letting any kid fall through the cracks,” Superintendent Wendy Birhanzel said. “Counselors and administrators have owned that and made it a priority. It’s a concerted effort.”

Colorado Springs School District 11’s on-time graduation rate for all students increased by 1.2% to 71.3%, after a 1% increase the previous year.

“We continue to see the trajectory for grad rates going up,” said spokeswoman Devra Ashby, citing a variety of educational choices as one reason, including International Baccalaureate programs, college classes high school students can take while earning their diploma, Advanced Placement classes and innovative Career and Technical Education options.

“We also credit our dedicated teachers, counselors, administrators and support staff, who work hard to get students where they need to be and to graduate,” she said.

Harrison also made strides among black graduates, which Birhanzel attributes to “making sure all of our kids have the same opportunities, regardless of race or ethnicity.”

Region-wide, the white graduation rate was 80.5%, and the black rate was 76.4%, in large part because of Harrison D-2. Latino students in El Paso and Teller counties tallied a graduation rate of 62.4%.

Among major local districts, Harrison had the largest increase in dropouts, increasing from 0.8% in 2018 to 1.9% last year.

Colorado Springs D-11 also saw more dropouts, rising from 2.7% to 3%.

Ashby said D-11's dropout rate at non-alternative education campuses had a minimal decrease of 0.1% when compared with 2017-2018.

“These changes are small enough that we don’t see any one contributor to explain them,” she said.

The collective dropout rate for the 17 local districts fell to 2.7% in 2018-2019, down from 2.9% in 2017-18.

However, the rate was still higher than the state dropout rate of 2%.

The improvement was led by a large decrease in District 49, falling from 9.4% to 7.5%. Still, the district by far had the highest dropout rate in the area and was a major factor in the region’s dropout rate being higher than the state average.

The dropout rate is calculated by dividing the number of dropouts during the school year by the total number of students that were counted as enrolled at any time during the same school year.

Calhan RJ-1, Edison 54-JT, Academy D-20, Cheyenne Mountain D-12, Lewis-Palmer D-38, Manitou Springs D-14, Peyton 23-JT and Fountain-Fort Carson D-8 had dropout rates a half a percent or below.

The state’s 2019 graduation rate of just over 81% reflects a 0.4 percentage point increase over 2018 and is the highest in nine years.

State Education Commissioner Katy Anthes attributes the improvement to students understanding the value of completing high school, expanded options to finish high school and “rigorous and useful graduation guidelines.”

In two rural regional school districts, all high school seniors graduated in the spring. For the second consecutive year, Calhan School District RJ-1 east of Colorado Springs tied for the highest graduation rate of the area’s 17 districts, with all 35 students earning diplomas in 2019. Calhan had no dropouts.

Two charter schools, Thomas MacLaren School, a state-authorized charter school, and The Classical Academy in Academy School District 20, also had 100 percent graduation.

Hanover School District 28, southeast of Colorado Springs, also had a perfect graduation record, with 11 students in the class of 2019.

Hanover has implemented several strategies to boost the graduation rate, said T. McNerney, principal of Hanover Junior/Senior High School and its Online Academy.

Staff, student and parent buy-in and an intentional "Individualized Career Academic Plan" for each student that “helps students understand the value of a high school degree and the choices they would incur if they overcome the barriers they encounter” have led the process, he said.

The district also provides a “comprehensive response” to intervention for struggling students with 300 minutes a week of individualized or small-group instruction during and after school, along with counseling, if needed, for both academic and social support, McNerney said.

Hands-on classroom activities and using best practices in teaching have helped teachers bring relevance to learning and build relationships, he added.

Districts now are preparing to ensure next year’s class of 2021 is on track to meet new state graduation requirements.

High schools will need to increase the number of students meeting the minimum SAT college-entrance exam requirements in math and English and offer options for students to take an alternative assessment to demonstrate career and college readiness.

Students also will have additional opportunities to earn college credit in high school, earn an approved industry certification and be given choices to demonstrate post-workforce readiness using student-generated portfolios.

“These options will increase the demonstrations of learning available to students for graduation, thereby better supporting individual student choice and opportunity for career and college readiness after high school,” Ashby said.

Click here for 2019 graduation, dropout rates for Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

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