Idaho’s graduation rate loses ground nationally

(UPDATED, 1:52 p.m., with Idaho reactions.)

Idaho’s graduation rate improved in 2016, but still lags below the national average.

What’s more, Idaho’s graduation rate ranked No. 40 in the nation, down one spot from the previous year.

The federal government released new graduation rate numbers Monday. Let’s break down the data drop:

The national numbers improved — again. The national rate of 84.1 percent is up from 83.2 percent in 2015. The national graduation rate has improved for five consecutive years.

Idaho’s numbers showed a slight uptick. The feds said Idaho’s 2016 graduation rate came in at 79.7 percent. That’s a little bit higher than the 79.5 percent number the State Department of Education released in January. The feds’ number reflects some revised — and improved — graduation numbers from one Idaho district, SDE spokeswoman Kris Rodine said Tuesday.

Either way you slice it, Idaho’s graduation rate is up from 2015’s number, 78.9 percent.

Idaho still loses some ground nationally. Idaho’s graduation rate came in 4.4 percentage points below the national average; in 2015, this gap was 4.3 percentage points.

And Idaho’s latest graduation rate tied for the No. 40 spot nationally. Idaho ranked No. 39 in 2015.

By contrast, Iowa had the nation’s highest graduation rate, at 91.3 percent, while the District of Columbia had the nation’s lowest rate, at 69.2 percent.

Idaho’s demographic breakdowns. White students graduated at an 81.4 percent rate. For Hispanic students, Idaho’s largest minority population, the graduation rate was 73.7 percent. At-risk groups also lagged behind the state average. Students in poverty graduated at a 71.9 percent rate. Students with limited English proficiency graduated at a 73 percent rate. Students with disabilities graduated at a 60 percent rate.

Idaho reactions

In a statement issued Tuesday, Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra didn’t address Idaho’s national ranking. She instead focused on Idaho’s second consecutive year of improved graduation rates.

“We continue to be encouraged by this positive trend in Idaho’s graduation rate, propelled by the hard work and focus of local schools and districts to equip their students to go on to college and careers,” Ybarra said.

State Board of Education Executive Director Matt Freeman said the state has plenty of work to do. By 2023, the State Board wants Idaho’s graduation rate to hit the 95 percent mark. Moving forward, he says the State Board’s strategy will likely be to stay the course — on K-12 policies such as the career ladder to boost teacher pay, and a shift to a mastery-based system that moves students through school based on their command of subject matter.

Idaho faces several obstacles, Freeman said. One is cultural — and getting all Idaho parents and students to see the value of finishing high school. One is a strong economy, that can allow students to drop out of high school for an attractive job in construction.

“None of those are excuses,” Freeman said Tuesday. “They’re just factors that we have to look at.”

More reading: A detailed look at the national numbers, from Education Week.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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