Idaho’s new graduation rate: 77.3 percent

More than three in four Idaho students earned a high school diploma within four years, according to 2013-14 numbers from the State Department of Education.

And close to 88 percent of the students in the class of 2014 pursued or received a high school diploma or certificate of some form. “In the end, we are still graduating kids at a higher rate than we ever did before,” state superintendent Sherri Ybarra said Wednesday.

However, Ybarra’s own State Department of Education says the new numbers cannot be compared with reports from previous years, since Idaho is now complying with new and more stringent federal reporting guidelines. And it’s impossible — at least for the time being — to compare Idaho’s most recent graduation numbers with other states.

Indeed, the numbers are that confusing.

However, the new federal guidelines do force Idaho officials to take a more detailed look at the high school graduation rate — long considered a bright mark amongst the state’s spotty education metrics. Idaho has long boasted one of the nation’s top high school graduation rates, even as Idaho’s college attendance and completion rates lag near the bottom of the national rankings.

The new numbers focus on Idaho students who entered ninth grade in 2010-11 — or, in essence, the high school graduating class of 2014. Here’s the breakdown, according to figures released Wednesday:

  • In all, 77.3 percent of students earned a conventional high school diploma within four years.
  • An additional 10.3 percent of students earned a GED or a diploma under a special education program — or they are alternative students who are still pursuing a diploma. These students are not included in the 77.3 percent figure.
  • Only 2.9 percent of students were classified as “known or possible” high school dropouts.
  • The remaining students are also counted as “non-graduates.” But it is unclear why some of these students left school, and nearly half of them transferred out of Idaho without documentation.

The 77.3 percent figure represents a decrease from 2012-13, when the State Department of Education reported an 83.6 percent graduation rate. But Department of Education officials caution against drawing comparisons — because the reporting guidelines are so different.

Students who receive a GED or special education diploma are still calculated as “non-graduates,” as are students who are still working toward their diploma. In the past, students who received a GED or were still working on a diploma were never put into the graduation equation at all; they were considered neither graduates nor nor-graduates. Now, the new calculations drive up the percentage of students defined as non-graduates — and that, in turn, drives down the percentage of graduates.

That 2012-13 graduation rate also marked a 10-year low for the state — but that dropoff can also be attributed to accounting changes. Starting in 2012-13, Idaho complied with federal guidelines that require districts to do a better job of tracking students who transfer between schools or leave the education system. Students who fall through these cracks are now counted as non-graduates, which reduces the overall graduation rate.

Districts have been working hard to meet these new reporting requirements — but the rules are becoming more stringent. For example, Idaho districts now need to get paperwork when a student transfers to a school in another state. “It had to be more official,” said Nichole Hall, the department’s college and career readiness assessment coordinator.

It is difficult to compare Idaho’s graduation numbers over time — and equally difficult to compare Idaho’s graduation numbers with other states. Idaho did not have to report to the feds from 2010-11 through 2012-13, because the state was in the process of installing its new longitudinal data system. Eventually, Idaho should be able to compare its 2013-14 numbers with other states, Hall said, but these other numbers aren’t available yet.

On Wednesday, Ybarra said the new reports will provide useful data.

“This ‘starting point’ data is a good look at if all our initiatives are working or not,” she said in a statement. “I have always said, if you want to know if kids are meeting the ‘Go On’ initiative, we better have accurate and authentic data.”

Read more: Download the State Department of Education news release, and a State Department of Education fact sheet.