Two Colorado Springs-area districts tied for having the region’s highest graduation rate of 95.5 percent, according to annual data the Colorado Department of Education released Wednesday.

Statewide, the four-year graduation rates continue to rise — for the Class of 2018, it was 80.7 percent — and the state’s dropout rate hit an all-time low of 2.2 percent last academic year, statistics show.

Harrison School District 2, in which three-fourths of students qualify for free and reduced meals benefits, indicating poverty, and three-fourths are identified as minorities, posted a dropout rate of 0.08 percent.

“It’s the lowest we are aware of in recent history,” said D-2 spokeswoman Christine O’Brien.

Pikes Peak region graduation and dropout rates: 2017-2018

Focusing on support that nontraditional students may need to stay in school and be successful, such as online instruction and a partnership for alternative education, were among the reasons O’Brien cited for the improvement in keeping kids in school.

Overall, dropout rates among the Pikes Peak region’s 17 public school districts remained the same as the previous year and combined graduation rates increased for local schools.

However, overall local graduation rates are lower than they were five years ago, and dropout rates are higher than they were five years ago.

The reason students stay in school to earn a diploma or quit is often related to the relevance or perceived relevance of the education to the students, said David Slothower, superintendent of Calhan School District RJ-1, about 40 miles northeast of Colorado Springs.

“We talk a lot about re-engagement strategies, and we’ve launched a great effort into alternative education, with a strong vocational component,” he said. “Sometimes that career and technical education has that element of relevance, and we use that to re-engage students in the whole education process.”

Calhan RJ-1 tied with Lewis-Palmer School District 38 in Monument for the highest graduation rate in the region.

A wide range of choices for students has helped maintain high graduation rates and low dropout rates in Lewis-Palmer D-38, said spokeswoman Julie Stephen.

The Classical Academy, a charter school in Academy D-20, had a 100 percent graduation rate last year.

Individualized, early intervention in middle school for kids who appear to be at risk of potentially dropping out has helped the region’s largest public school district, Colorado Springs School District 11, inch up its graduation rates and decrease dropout rates in recent years, said spokeswoman Devra Ashby.

“It’s not always academic reasons for kids not being in school; some of it is social and emotional as well,” she said, “so addressing some of those issues helps students overcome barriers and achieve in school long term.”

A multi-tiered student success formula enables staff to try different strategies until they find something that works, Ashby added.

Among the largest districts, Academy School District 20 saw the biggest jump in graduation rates, from 89.9 percent in 2016-17 to 93 percent in 2017-18.

Districts’ numbers can be skewed by alternative education campuses, which cater to students who don’t do well in traditional schools and are considered at risk of dropping out.

For example, GOAL Academy, a statewide online school with about 4,000 students, is part of District 49, which posted the lowest graduation rate of 56.4 percent and the highest dropout rate of 9.4 percent.

“If you were to look at the same data and exclude our alternative education campuses, 0.6 is our dropout rate,” said D-49 spokesman David Nancarrow. “The district is proud to support a school that’s dedicated to supporting the under-served population of students with those high-risk indicators.”

And the rates for small rural districts on the eastern plains and in the mountains can be thrown off by just a few students, Slothower said.

That doesn’t diminish the accomplishments, however, such as Edison 54-JT, the region’s smallest district with about 230 students total, having zero dropouts last year. All 173 middle and high school students in the district graduated.

Cheyenne Mountain D-12, with around 5,200 students, had a 0.2 percent dropout rate.

In terms of progress among minority groups, the Pikes Peak region had much a smaller white/black gap in graduation rates than statewide — 4.5 percentage points vs. 10.9 percentage points — but a larger white/Latino gaps — 14.3 percentage points vs. 12 percentage points.

Harrison D-2, Fountain-Fort Carson D-8 and Widefield D-3 had higher black graduation rates than white graduation rates.

And Harrison was the only district that had higher Latino graduation rates than among white students — 81.7 percent to 74.8 percent.

“At the end of the day, it really comes down to the effort of the teachers and what goes on in the classroom,” Calhan’s Slothower said.

Gazette statistician Burt Hubbard contributed to this story.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

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