Figures from the Iowa Department of Education show the state’s graduation rate has gone up for the third straight year. The rate increased to 89.68 percent in 2013 compared to 89.26 percent last year.
Jay Pennington, the chief of the department’s bureau of information and analysis, says there were increases in all but one of the sub-groups of students they track. “Hispanic students, we saw about a two-percent increase there, the Native American group saw a little over a ten percent increase. And while that’s a relatively smaller group in the state — I think that’s great news,” Pennington says. He says students that don’t have English as their first language saw around a two percent increase in their graduation rate.
Pennington says the graduation rate is the end story of a process adopted four years ago that tracks the students from their freshman year. “It focuses on things like failure in freshman-year courses. And so we know that students who fall behind early are much less likely to get across the line four years later,” Pennington says. “And so, having the ability to take a look at each cohort and provide supports as those students transition, I think is key.”
Five of the 10 largest school districts reported increases in four-year graduation rates — with Council Bluffs reporting the largest gain of 3.23 percent. That district’s overall four-year graduation rate is 84.74 percent for the class of 2013.
Other figures show the annual dropout rate decreased again in the 2012-13 school year. It stood at 2.82 percent compared to 3.20 percent last year. Pennington says schools have taken steps to reach out to students who drop out. He cites the example of Des Moines, where they go out and contact those students to get them back in class. “Efforts like that where you’re seeing a focus on trying to get every kid back in school and engaged to graduate are key,” Pennington says. The dropout rate is based on a single year and the number of drop outs in the 2012-13 year was 4,108 students.
Pennington says the schools have done a good job of addressing both issues. “But I also think that we need to not just rest on our laurels, we need to focus really on high school preparedness — the work in high school that prepares you to be successful after high school,” Pennington says. “So, looking at college readiness and ensuring that all kids are ready and successful beyond high school.”
Overall the four-year graduation rate for the class of 2013 increased from the previous year in 170 school districts (54 percent) out of 316 with high schools. Thirteen school districts (4 percent) saw no change in their graduation rates from the year before, while 133 districts (42 percent) saw a decrease.