TWIN FALLS — Two-thirds of Magic Valley public high schools surpassed the statewide average for 2017 graduation rates.
The Idaho State Department of Education released numbers Wednesday. Overall, nearly 80 percent of last year’s Gem State high school seniors graduated — a rate virtually unchanged from 2016.
Schools use the information to see how they can improve and better help students who are at risk of not making it to the finish line.
“Our real goal is to be over 90 percent and even into the mid-90s, if possible,” said L.T. Erickson, secondary programs director for the Twin Falls School District.
Canyon Ridge is home to the school district’s Newcomer Center for refugee students, who make up between 8 and 9 percent of the student body. Students often arrive without any formal schooling or had interruptions in their education.
“It’s amazing what they do to get those students graduated,” Erickson said.
Twin Falls high schools put forth a “herculean effort” to help students who are at risk of not graduating, he said.
The state’s education department is required to release high school graduation rates every year. For a few years, it has used a cohort model — a federal calculation showing how many students graduate with a regular high school diploma within four years. It counts some students as “non-graduates,” including some alternative school students, GED graduates, special education students who earn a modified diploma and students who withdraw from school or transfer out of state without documentation.
That has caused concern and criticism from some local school leaders. Erickson said he likes how every student is tracked for four years, but disagrees with other parts of the method.
In a statement Wednesday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra praised the data.
“It is exciting to have three years of data using the same formula to calculate rates,” she said. “This allows us to dig deeper into the data, identify trends and ask questions.”
Overall, the state’s average graduation rate is 79.67 percent — just 0.01 percent higher than the year before. About 36 percent of high schools had 90 percent or more of its seniors graduate.
Here in south-central Idaho, 11 of 32 public high schools fell below the statewide average. Of those, five are alternative schools, where it’s typical to take more than four years to graduate. On the other end of the spectrum, four local schools — each with fewer than 20 students — had a perfect 100 percent graduation rate: Carey School, Raft River Junior/Senior High School in Malta, Bliss and Murtaugh.
In Kimberly, the graduation rate was 92 percent. The rate dipped a bit in 2016, but climbed about 6 percentage points for 2017. Superintendent Luke Schroeder said he was pleasantly surprised to see Kimberly High’s graduation rate was one of the best in the Magic Valley. Community demographics play a role, he said, adding that local families value education.
“Administration and staff take a heads-on approach to identify kids who are behind in credits and off track for graduation,” Schroeder said. They’ll go as far as pulling students into the school office for a class period of two to make sure they’re staying on top of their studies.
But Schroeder said he thinks a lot of schools use that same proactive approach. “I don’t think we have any secret sauce here.”
In Cassia County, three of four high school campuses had a graduation rate above 90 percent: Burley High School, Oakley High School and Raft River High School. In nearby Rupert, Minico High School came in at 89.6 percent.
“I’m very excited that our graduation rates are that high,” said Sandra Miller, assistant superintendent for the Cassia County School District. “Our goal is to graduate 100 percent of our students, if possible. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances.”
Across Idaho, a couple of problematic areas are virtual schools and alternative schools. To better track how many students graduate, the Idaho State Department of Education plans to add a five-year cohort rate in the future, according to a Wednesday statement.
Of 4,604 Idaho students who didn’t graduate with their class in 2017, 21 percent came back to school this year. And 32 of them have already earned a diploma.
Magic Valley High takes in students from across the region to help them graduate by the time they turn 21, Erickson said. The school district is committed to helping students finish high school and doesn’t worry about the impact on the graduation rate.
“When we enroll them,” he said, “we know they’re going to count as a dropout against us.”