Information released today by the Iowa Department of Education shows the state 4-year graduation rate for high schools dropped by one-half percent in 2011. Jay Pennington is chief of the department’s Information and Analysis Bureau.

“I think it is concerning that it dropped a half percent from this year to last year. This year’s class of 2011 is above the class of 2009. So that’s good, I think it means taht we need to, not just as a state, but schools and districts to get as many kids as possible to complete within four years,” Pennington says.

The statewide 4-year graduation rate is 88.3%, compared to 88.8% in 2010, and 87.3% in 2009. “The state Board of Education has a stated goal of 95% of students graduating. I think that 95% is an ambitious goal, that goal was set several years ago, in the meantime the formula has changed slightly since that formula was set,” Pennington says.

The formula was changed 3 years ago, and now assigns a number to each student to better track them throughout their high school career. Pennington says Iowa still has one of the top graduation rates in the nation.

Five of the 10 largest school districts in the state — Sioux City, Waterloo, Iowa City, Council Bluffs and Cedar Rapids — saw an increase in graduation rates. “Seeing those larger districts with an increase in percentage is good to see, I think we need to dig in a little bit more and see the majority of discticts that did see a decline and see what kind of supports are needed there,” Pennington says.

Storm Lake has the lowest 4-year graduation rate at 57.4%. Sigourney had the next lowest at 63%. The state saw virtually no change in the annual dropout rate and an increase in the statewide graduation rate for students who took an extra year to finish high school.

See the complete list of graduation rates here: 2010-2011GraduationDropoutRates