HELENA — The Montana Office of Public Instruction says the four-year graduation rate in the state’s high schools hit 86.6% for the 2018-2019 school year. Leaders say that was the highest rate since 2011, when OPI began using the four-year measurement.
In the Helena School District, the overall graduation rate also rose, from 84.3% in 2018 to 88.4% in 2019. Capital High’s rate improved slightly, from 89.4% to 90.9%. Helena High’s rose more significantly, from 79.3% in 2018 to 86.5% in 2019 – though the 2018 rate had been unusually low compared to previous years.
Helena Public Schools Superintendent Tyler Ream said the district’s goals has been to reach at least a 90% graduation rate.
“If you’re above 90%, or at 90%, we still want you to go up,” he added.
Ream said, while baseline numbers are important, district leaders are looking for a deeper understanding of the graduation issue.
“You can look at it and you can understand what the number means from a composite sense, but to really understand, you’ve got to begin to look at subgroups or individual students – to say, ‘What are risk factors? How are our students doing? Who’s progressing, who’s not progressing, and what can we do to get them back on track?” he said.
Dylan Klapmeier, an OPI spokesperson, also highlighted that complexity. He noted that, especially in rural school districts, the graduation rate can vary widely from year to year. He said OPI encourages educators to focus on their local trends.
Klapmeier said OPI has taken efforts to support career and technical education and other initiatives to help high schoolers develop skills.
“The more we can make a high school student’s education relevant to their future, the more engaged they’re going to be,” Klapmeier said.
Ream said ninth grade is a key year for high school students, and that the Helena School District is putting efforts into making sure eighth- and ninth-graders are set up for success.
“Coming in on track, having options coming in, taking those classes that they need to as freshmen, completing those classes – and if they don’t, getting them the credit recovery options that allow them to keep pace with their cohort – are really critical efforts that our high schools do well,” he said.
Ream also said base graduation rates don’t always tell the full story. He said students who take part in the Helena School District’s Access to Success program are counted as participating in “adult education” rather than completing high school. However, those students are still working toward a diploma while taking courses at Helena College.
“That is a group of students who, maybe the comprehensive high school or the comprehensive high school schedule isn’t quite working for them, they opt out of the comprehensive high school, yet they’re still taking high school courses – and technically, they still graduate from the Helena public schools,” said Ream.
Great Falls Public Schools’ graduation rate rose from 80.0% to 83.4% from 2018 to 2019. Great Falls High’s graduation numbers improved from 75.8% to 81.8%, while C.M. Russell’s rose from 84.0% to 84.9%.
You can find the full graduation rates for schools around Montana on the OPI website.