The number of kids in Iowa’s high schools who are graduating in four years has increased for the fourth straight year. Jay Pennington is the chief of the Department of Education’s Bureau of Information and Analysis, says the rate moved up to to 90.5-percent compared to 89.7-percent in 2013. “If we look at the long-term trend, we see a nice increase just in the past four years of just over 2-percent statewide. That’s exciting news for Iowa’s schools and districts,” Pennington says.
The numbers show an increase in graduation rates for all but two of the subgroups of students tracked by the department. Penington says one of the subgroups seeing an increase is those students who receive free or reduced-price lunches.”The class of 2013 to the class of 2014, we see about 3.7-percent increase. ELL has also been a growing population within the state, and we see about 7.4-percent increase in the students who are English Language Learners,” Pennington says. “And then lastly, a group that has grown dramatically over the last decade — that’s our students of Hispanic origin — and we see just over a 2-percent increase for that group as well.”
The Department also released the annual dropout rate, which decreased in the 2013-14 school year to 2.7-percent from 2.8-percent the previous year. State figures show 3,932 students dropped out in the 2013-2104 school year. Pennington says it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what has led to the increased graduation rates, but says the focus on the four-year, on-time graduation rate has made a difference, as schools are using a number of tracking mechanisms to be sure students are progressing.
“They’re looking at things like the number of F’s received in that freshman year, and that kind of indicator is great predictor of whether or not you’ll successfully complete high school in four years,” Pennington says. Nine of the state’s ten largest school districts saw increased graduation rates — with Cedar Rapids reporting the largest gain at 4.1 percent. While it might appear the larger districts have more resources to ensure that students graduate, Pennington says there’s more to the story.
“Typically those larger school districts are dealing with a more diverse population, larger percentages of English Language Learners, perhaps students that come from another country and enroll in high school. And so I think, while certainly you can see some economies of scale for larger school districts, they are also presented with a number of challenges as well,” according to Pennington. Davenport at 3.73-percent and Waterloo at 3.72-percent followed Cedar Rapids for the biggest increase among the top ten schools. Sioux City was the only district in the group to see a drop, with its graduation rate going down by 1.48-percent.
Pennington says the overall graduation rate has Iowa looking down on the other states. “If we look at the most recent numbers released by the U.S. Department of Education, Iowa is at the top,” Pennington says. He says the overall U.S. four-year graduation rate is 82-percent.
Pennington says the graduation rate is good news, but it has to be factored in with other measures, such as college readiness to get an accurate pictures of the state’s education system. You can find out how your school fared on the Department of Education’s website.