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Wyoming’s high school graduation remains steady but does have some outliers

Emily Ranquist
Pixabay via pexels.com

The Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) released graduation statistics for the 2021-22 school year, which saw 81.8 percent of students graduate high school statewide. This marks a slight decrease of 0.6 percent in the state’s overall graduation rate from the 2020-21 school year, when 82.4 percent of students, a nine year high, completed high school.

Fifteen of the state’s 48 school districts had graduation rates of 90 percent or higher. Sheridan County School District #3 (Arvada-Clearmont), Sublette County School District #9 (Big Piney), and Washakie County School District #2 (Ten Sleep) all had 100 percent graduation rates.

“Wyoming graduation rates have been over 80 percent [since the 2015-16 school year],” said Megan Degenfelder, Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction. “The consistency and graduation rates is a true testament to Wyoming's resolve during the COVID-19 pandemic, the work of our teachers, and the supports that we have in place. We remain proud of these results. There's still much work to do to improve and the Wyoming Department of Education stands ready to continue to assist districts in improving their graduation rates.”

Despite the small decrease in the graduation rate from the 2020-21 to the 2021-22 school year, there is hope that the long-term upward trend will continue and won’t begin a downward one.

“When we look at that point six percent decrease, you'll notice that the previous year was, I believe, a high from the previous nine years, and so I would say that the prior year's rate was elevated,” Degenfelder said. “I would just refer back to that consistency over time, if you look [at] the last several years, particularly from 2015, that really has remained consistent.”

Students enrolled in a Career or Technical Education (CTE) program of study had higher graduation rates than students not enrolled in one. Degenfelder said keeping individual learning at the forefront is a mission for her department.

However, there were discrepancies in student performance in some districts and schools. Additional attention needs to be focused on these schools to increase graduation rates. Those included the Native American student population whose graduation rate was 49.3 percent. Low income students, such as those who qualified for free or reduced lunch, graduated at lower rates than their classmates, with 68.4 percent graduating. Students who were homeless also graduated at lower rates, with 57.1 percent receiving their high school diploma.

Specific plans and initiatives for higher need students include investments at the federal and state level in addition to providing professional development opportunities and increasing literacy in the hopes of boosting future graduation rates.

“With Native American students in particular, we have a couple of things that that are in progress, and then under my term will look to really expand, the first of which has been to work with the governor to provide COVID relief dollars to those populations, particularly in the area of technology where that has been lacking,” she said. “Secondly, we continue to provide an annual Native American education conference that provides professional development and training to folks in those districts. And then lastly, we are launching a literacy pilot program for our Native American school districts. And of course, we know that literacy rates by third grade are an indicator of future graduation rates.”

Degenfelder also listed other priorities she hopes to implement as part of her tenure as state superintendent.

“From early intervention, particularly literacy and supports through school improvement plans to increasing parental involvement, getting government out of the way so that our teachers can teach an expanding career pathway focus so students can have a sense of purpose and future when it comes to their education and individual learning that best fits their needs,” she said.

Wyoming has maintained a graduation rate of 80 percent or higher since the 2015-16 school year. This is an improvement from a decade ago, when 77.6 percent of students finished high school statewide in the 2012-13 school year. National high school graduation rates have been in the mid-80 percent range in recent years with Wyoming scoring a few points lower during this time.

The WDE has calculated graduation rates using the federal Four-Year Adjusted Cohort Methodology established by the U.S. Department of Education since the 2009-10 school year. It requires all states to calculate graduation rates the same way. Under this methodology, students are counted in the four-year, “on-time,” high school graduation rate if they earn a diploma by Sept. 15 following their class’s fourth year. Statistics on fifth and sixth year graduation rates are also included.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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