GFPS graduation rate up 3.35 percent over previous year

The graduation rate for Great Falls Public Schools for the class of 2019 was 83.38 percent, up 3.35 percent from the previous, according to district officials.

Heather Hoyer, the secondary assistant superintendent at GFPS, reviewed the dropout and graduation rate data for the school board during their Jan. 27 meeting.

For the class of 2019, there were 109 dropouts, versus 131 the previous year.

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Hoyer said the trend line has returned to the downward direction is had mostly been moving over the last decade.

“While we understand that each cohort of students is different, we continue to focus on our efforts because even one dropout is too many,” Hoyer said.

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Under language used by the Montana Office of Public Instruction, the dropout rate courts students who were enrolled in school on the date of the previous year’s October enrollment count, or at some point during the previous year’s and were not enrolled on the date of the current school year October count.

The four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate is the number of students who graduate in four years with a regular high school diploma divided by the number of students who form the adjusted cohort for the graduating class, according to GFPS.

From the beginning of 9th grade, students who are entering that grade for the first time form a cohort that is adjusted by adding any students who transfer in during 9th grade and subtracting over the next three years any students who transfer out, emigrate to another county or pass away during the same period, according to GFPS.

The completion rate is defined as the students who complete the high school graduation requirements of a school district, including early graduates during the previous year,  or complete the graduation requirements of a school district at the end of the summer prior to the current school year, according to OPI.

OPI tracks and evaluates school districts in Montana based on the four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate, Hoyer said.

According to state law, students can dropout at 16, Hoyer said. At that age, Hoyer said, there are employment opportunities for students who need to support themselves or help their families and dropping out becomes an attractive or necessary option.

In Great Falls, the graduate rate for the class of 2019 at C.M.R High School was 84.93 percent, up 0.95 percent over the previous year and the rate at Great Falls High was 81.84 percent, or 6.02 percent over last year.

The completion rate for GFPS last year was 87.25 percent, Hoyer said, the third highest in the state behind Helena and Butte, which had a 91.1 percent completion rate.

The completion rate has stayed above 84 percent since the 2014-2015 school year, according to GFPS data.

That number is significant, Hoyer said, because it demonstrates the district and the community’s commitment to getting students to earn diplomas, even if they don’t do it in the traditional four-year period.

Hoyer said the district is continuing to looks at ways to reduce barriers to graduation through the HiSet prorgam, which is successful, gives students the equivalent of a high school diploma, at the College and Career Readiness Center at Great Falls College MSU; secondary life skills program at Paris Gibson Education Center; Montana Youth Challenge through the Montana National Guard; intensive academic programming and tiered support; Alliance for Youth support; licensed addition and behavioral therapists; Paris Gibson Education Center; and the alternative to expulsion program.

Last year, the district held seven disciplinary hearings and not all of those students were able to return to the traditional educational setting, Hoyer said.

Hoyer said district staff tracks the dropout, graduation and completion rates by race as well as some socioeconomic markers.

Since July 2016, a total of 1,556 people ages 16-60 have received GFPS diplomas through the HiSet program, Hoyer said.

Last year, that age breakdown was:

  • 16-18: 102
  • 19-24: 110
  • 25-44: 140
  • 45-54: 28
  • 55-59: 12
  • 60+: 14

The American Indian cohort graduation rate was up this year over the previous year, but is still lower than the overall rate at 68.54 percent, Hoyer said.

“That’s a point of concern,” she said, and that staff will be focusing on that group to see what can be done to improve the graduation rate among American Indian students.

Students in the homeless category are graduating at lower rates and Hoyer said poverty is a compounding factor for every sub group, adding trauma and stressors to students who are struggling to stay in school.

Hoyer said the district has two homeless coordinators, funded by grants, helping connect students and families to resources and works closely with community groups in an effort to provide support and keep those students in school.

The dropout rate for the class of 2018 had spiked and asked whether the district had determined why, Hoyer said staff was still evaluating that but that it was a smaller class overall so that made a significant impact on the percentages and that there was a boom in trauma and drug related issues for that cohort.

School board member Kim Skornogoski said that around the 2009 school year, the district took the “brave step” in calling attention to the dropout rate when there was an average of 210-215 dropouts annually.

She said they could have let that continue, but instead highlighted the issue, knowing there would be blowback when the rate spiked like it did last year.

The said that overall, the trend has been an increasing graduation rate, as well as a strong completion rate.

“It shows that our district does not give up on kids period,” she said during the Jan. 27 board meeting.

Superintendent Tom Moore said that there will be undulations in the data from year to year since student cohorts are different so looking at the trends is important.

He said that in 2015, the district had to cut support teams and intervention programs due to budget cuts and believes that is impacting the graduation rate, so to see improvement without resources, “I think is miraculous.”