(UPDATED, 5:28 p.m., with comments from Gov. Butch Otter.)
Idaho’s 2014-15 graduation rate again fell well below the national average — but the numbers showed some signs of improvement.
Idaho’s ranking moved up, slightly, and the state’s graduation rate is nudging closer to the national average.
Idaho’s 78.9 percent graduation rate ranked No. 39 nationally, according to figures released Monday by the U.S. Department of Education.
A year earlier, Idaho ranked No. 41 nationally.
Idaho’s 78.9 percent number isn’t new. The state released its 2014-15 numbers in February, with state superintendent Sherri Ybarra touting “positive movement” from 2013-14’s 77.3 percent rate.
But Monday’s federal report puts Idaho’s numbers, and Idaho’s improving performance, into national context.
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One encouraging note: The gap between Idaho’s graduation rate and the national rate narrowed in 2014-15. The national graduation rate reached a record high of 83.2 percent — 4.3 percentage points above Idaho’s graduation rate. In 2013-14, the national graduation rate came in at 82.3 percent, 5 percentage points higher than Idaho’s rate.
Ybarra applauded the new round of numbers.
“As I have said in the past, Idaho’s graduation rate is showing positive movement and this confirms that students are graduating at a higher rate nationally than ever before,” Ybarra said in a statement.
Gov. Butch Otter restated his pitch for the 20 recommendations from his education task force — recommendations ranging from increased teacher pay to a “mastery” model than moves students through the K-12 system based on command of subject matter.
“We need to see significant improvement in the high school graduation rate, but these latest numbers show we are headed in the right direction,” Otter said Monday. “With continued implementation of the task force recommendations, we expect the graduation rate will climb.”
The state has plenty of work still to do, State Board of Education President Emma Atchley said Monday.
“While improvement in graduation rates is good, we need to do better as a state,” she said. “We need to identify when and where we are losing these students while in high school, and what additional supports and services the state could provide schools and students so they can earn a high school diploma.”
The glimmers of good news come as Idaho’s graduation rates have come under close scrutiny.
Idaho’s low high school graduation rankings — first reported by Idaho Education News in December — contradicted a long-held belief within the state’s political and business communities. The state’s leaders long believed Idaho had one of the nation’s highest graduation rates, even as Idaho struggled to boost its languid college attendance and graduation statistics.
But when Idaho switched to the national metric to calculate graduation rates, the state got an unpleasant surprise. When Idaho began tracking student groups from ninth through 12th grade, the state’s numbers declined significantly.
Idaho first began using the four-year tracking procedure in 2013-14.