Grad rates improve, but officials unsure of future

Despite pandemic disruption in spring 2020, data moves in positive direction for Adams County districts

Liam Adams
ladams@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 3/15/21

Administrators and school board directors in Adams County’s largest school districts are celebrating graduation rates for the 2019-20 school years. Westminster Public Schools’ four-year …

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Grad rates improve, but officials unsure of future

Despite pandemic disruption in spring 2020, data moves in positive direction for Adams County districts

Posted

Administrators and school board directors in Adams County’s largest school districts are celebrating graduation rates for the 2019-20 school years.

Westminster Public Schools’ four-year graduation rate was 72.5 percent, 27J Schools’ was 86 percent, Adams 12 Five Star Schools’ was 84 percent and Mapleton Public Schools was 78 percent, according to the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) data. Leaders applauded students’ ability to graduate on track after the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone into remote learning last March.

“I could not be more proud of these accomplishments and want to share my congratulations with our 2020 graduates, their parents and families, high school teachers, counselors and staff, and our entire 27J team for consistently striving for success,” said 27J Superintendent Chris Fiedler in a February press release. CDE released comprehensive graduation data in January.

A particular focus for 27J has been consistent, long-term growth. “The goal is to increase 2 percent each year until 95 percent and we will not go lower,” said Will Pierce, 27J’s chief academic officer, at a Feb. 23 board meeting. Between the 2016-17 and 2019-20 school years, the four-year graduation rate increased by 11 percent for the Brighton-based district. Throughout those same four years, Westminster’s rate has gone up by 25 percent and Adams 12’s by .5 percent.

All three school districts saw improvement in graduation rates among Latino and white students, the two major racial and ethnic subgroups, from the previous year, although gaps remain. The four-year graduation rate at 27J for Hispanic or Latino students was 82 percent and 88 percent for white students. Adams 12 Five Star’s rates were 77 percent of Hispanic or Latino students and 89 percent of white students. Adams 12 Superintendent Chris Gdowski celebrated improvements from the previous year in a press statement, saying “This continued progress highlights the critical work Five Star educators are doing to increase student achievement for all students, regardless of their race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status.” Yet, an Adams 12 spokesperson said that the district will continue focusing on closing the gap between white and Latino students.

Westminster, whose graduation base had far more Latino students than it did white students, saw a 73 percent graduation rate for Hispanic or Latino students and 63 percent for white students.

A data point Westminster highlighted was its five-year graduation rate, an improvement from the previous year. Westminster Superintendent Pam Swanson said in a press release, “There is nothing magical about getting a diploma in a fixed amount of time. Some of our students graduate in three years, while others take more time. What is important is that when they walk off the graduation stage they are ready for the next chapter in their lives.”

Although the pandemic didn’t negatively affect last year’s graduation rates, there is less certainty about this year, the entirety of which has flip-flopped between hybrid and fully remote learning. Andy Tucker, CDE’s director of postsecondary workforce readiness told Chalkbeat that COVID-19 will affect graduation rates in the long-term.

Several factors make it difficult to predict 2020-21 graduation rates, but local districts are already receiving hints. “As of today, we know that the percentage is less than it was in 2020,” Pierce said in an email about 27J. “We are worried about a number of students who have faded from regular participation in school. Many have chosen full-time work over attending school, many others struggled with the lack of structure, and there are more that have a range of competing commitments brought upon them from a global pandemic.” Pierce said 27J is actively chasing certain students to help them graduate this spring. A Westminster Public Schools statement echoed Pierce’s assessment. Adams 12 didn’t indicate what this district is seeing in preliminary data.

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