Colorado graduation rate improves to 10-year high, despite pandemic impact
Rate for Eagle County Schools increases slightly, though some student categories see declines
Colorado saw its best high school graduation rate in a decade in 2020, despite the onset of a pandemic in March that forced schools to close their doors, rapidly transition to a world of remote learning and cancel extracurricular activities and graduation ceremonies.
The graduation rate for Eagle County Schools held steady, exceeding the state average, with declines reported for some student categories, state data shows.
According to the Colorado Department of Education, 81.9% of seniors graduated statewide in the 2019-2020 school year, an increase of 0.8% from the prior school year. Colorado’s high school graduation rate has improved by 9.5% since 2010, when the state changed how it reports the rate.
“We know how tough the spring was for our seniors, with many not able to attend their proms or graduation ceremonies due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But we are so proud of the students, their parents and the teachers who helped them finish the year strong,” Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes said in a news release accompanying the graduation data’s release.
“History will look back at this generation of children and marvel at their perseverance and dedication. A rising graduation rate and a falling dropout rate are wonderful accomplishments, especially during these tough times,” Anthes said.
The four-year graduation rate for Eagle County Schools was 84.8% in 2020. That exceeds the statewide average and was up slightly from a rate of 84.7% for the 2018-2019 school year. The district also saw its four-year completion rate increase to 85.1%, up from 84.7% the year before. The category includes graduates as well as students who received a certificate, a designation of high school completion or a high school equivalency diploma.
“We’re very proud of the resilience and persistence last year’s seniors exhibited,” said Daniel Dougherty, chief communications officer for Eagle County Schools. “When the pandemic hit in March, no one knew what to expect, but it was certainly more challenging than expected.”
Because of the pandemic, seniors in 2020 ended the school year in remote instruction and missed out on a wide range of activities and in-person graduation ceremonies, but “remained dedicated to academics and made the best of challenging times,” Dougherty said. “To have rising rates during the pandemic is a testament to the students and their teachers.”
Four-year graduation rates for some categories of students in Eagle County Schools did decline in 2020.
The graduation rate for Hispanic and Latino students in the district declined to 75.6%, from 78.5% for the 2018-2019 school year. That rate slightly exceeded a statewide average of 75.4%, which increased 1.4% last year, according to state data.
Graduation rates also declined year-over-year for students with disabilities, from 65.1% to 62.1%; for students with limited English proficiency, from 73.1% to 66%; and for economically disadvantaged students, from 78.1% to 76.3%. Those rates still exceeded statewide averages for 2020, except the graduation rate for students with limited English proficiency, which declined below the statewide average of 70.2%.
Most of the graduation rates that saw declines last school year still significantly exceeded Eagle County Schools’ rates for the 2017-2018 school year. That year, four-year graduation rates were 74.9% for all students, 61.5% for Hispanic or Latino students, 66.1% for students with disabilities, 54.5% for students with limited English proficiency, 62.9% for economically disadvantaged students, and 90.8% for white students, according to state data.
Dougherty said Eagle County Schools is working to reach and maintain a graduation rate of 90% for the district. He noted that closing the gap between the graduation rate for white students — which was 94.3% in 2020 in Eagle County Schools and 92.4% the year prior — and students of color has been and remains a priority not only for the school district, but statewide.
Eagle County Schools has a large percentage of Hispanic or Latino students and nearly twice the percentage of English language learners compared to the state average, Dougherty said. While language barriers can impact test scores and graduation rates, Dougherty said students have made tremendous progress.
“If you look at the data, in both the (2016-17 and 2017-18) school years, our Latino students were around 10 points below the state average for their group. More recently, they’re on par, representing the highest growth as percentages,” Dougherty said.
With the pandemic ongoing and still impacting classroom education, Eagle County Schools is anticipating a possible drop in the graduation rate for the Class of 2021. State education officials are expressing a similar concern about graduation rates for the end of the current school year.
Eagle County Schools has said it will prioritize using $1.7 million in newly-allocated pandemic relief funding from the state and federal governments to help pay for interventions, extended hours and credit recovery and summer school programs to help students succeed and recover from any “learning loss” that may have occurred as a result of the pandemic.
“We’ll do everything in our power to help our students graduate and graduate on-time,” Dougherty said. “We believe in them and continue to be amazed by their determination in the midst of a pandemic.”
Tom Lotshaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.