Idaho graduation rate improves again

Idaho’s graduation rate improved again in 2016, reaching 79.5 percent.

The State Department of Education released the new numbers Tuesday. Here’s what we know, and what we don’t know.

What’s the trend? The numbers improved for the second consecutive year.

Idaho’s graduation rate reached 79.5 percent in 2015-16. By comparison, the 2014-15 graduation rate came in at 78.9 percent, and the 2013-14 rate was 77.3 percent.

How does the state calculate a graduation rate? The state tracks students from ninth grade through high school. In this case, we’re talking about the 21,909 students who started ninth grade in the fall of 2012. In all, 17,432 students had a diploma in hand by the spring of 2016.

Are the other students dropouts? Not necessarily. The remaining 4,477 students can fall under any number of categories. Some have received a GED, or are attending an alternative school. Some are special education students who received an alternative diploma. Others simply left school or the state, and have fallen through the cracks.

How does Idaho stack up nationally? Too soon to tell.

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Based on past years, the 2015-16 national numbers won’t come out until the fall.

In 2014-15, the national graduation rate reached a record 83.2 percent, and Idaho’s 78.9 percent ranked No. 39 in nation.

Wasn’t Idaho doing much better before? That was the conventional wisdom. For years, the state’s political leaders touted Idaho’s high school graduation rate as a bright spot — even when they lamented Idaho’s low college attendance and graduation rates.

But that was based on an apples-to-oranges comparison. Idaho used to calculate its graduation rates just by looking at what happened in 12th grade — instead of tracking students through four years of high school, as most states have done for years. Predictably enough, Idaho’s numbers always looked better, compared to states that used a more stringent grading system. When Idaho switched to the four-year tracking system in 2013-14, the state found its graduation rates ranked No. 41 nationally.

What’s the reaction to the new numbers? “This is proof that we are seeing a positive trend in our graduation rate under the four-year calculation, and it shows the hard work that is being done at the local level to emphasize the importance of achieving a high school diploma,” state superintendent Sherri Ybarra said Tuesday. “As we are seeing our graduation rate increase, it is also important that we highlight the efforts that are being made by local school districts in preparing students to be college- and career-ready.”

Download the data: Click here to download a spreadsheet of graduation rates, by school and district.