(HELENA) New data from the Montana Office of Public Instruction says statewide high school graduation rates have remained relatively consistent over the past few years.
State Superintendent Elsie Arntzen’s office released graduation, completion and dropout numbers for the 2016-17 school year last week.
The numbers show 85.8 percent of Montana high schoolers graduated within four years. That was a slight increase from 85.6 percent during the 2015-16 school year, and from the 85.4 percent statewide average over the last five years.
Since 2013, the Helena School District’s graduation rate has closely matched the state’s.
“We are on an even course the last couple of years,” said Superintendent Jack Copps.
Helena’s four-year graduation rate was 85.6 percent in 2016-17, a fraction lower than the year before. The district’s five-year average was 86 percent.
Copps said he doesn’t believe the year-to-year fluctuations are very significant.
“Just one or two additional students can change these figures dramatically,” he said.
Copps said the district has worked to improve graduation rates by focusing on early intervention – identifying students who are falling behind, starting in kindergarten and first grade. He said the biggest challenge is working with students transferring into the Helena School District, who are at a much greater risk of dropping out.
“When we look at the kids who start with us and stay with us, we lose less than two students out of every 100 students that we have,” said Copps.
District leaders have set a goal for at least 88 percent of students at Capital High to receive diplomas. At Helena High, where more students transfer in and out, the goal is 85 or 86 percent.
But Copps said merely meeting that minimum rate isn’t enough.
“Every student matters,” he said. “Regardless of the rate, we need to make sure that we understand why students leave, why they don’t complete, and we need to make adjustments wherever we can.”
Great Falls Public Schools’ graduation rate was 83.2 percent in 2016-17 – several percentage points below Helena’s and the statewide average. However, it was higher than the district’s five-year average of 82.5 percent.