Valley’s high school graduation rates mostly positive | PostIndependent.com

Valley’s high school graduation rates mostly positive

Glenwood Springs class of 2018 goes through commencement in June of last year. Graduation rates dropped slightly last year for the Roaring Fork School District high schools.
Kyle Mills / Post Independent

Roaring Fork Schools’ graduation rates dipped slightly in 2018 from the year before, but the general trend for the district and the state is improving.

Just over 84 percent of seniors in the Roaring Fork School District graduated last May after four years of high school, which is a higher rate than the state’s graduation rate of 80 percent, according to data from the Colorado Department of Education released Wednesday.

In 2017, RFSD’s four-year graduation rate was 86 percent, and the graduating class of 2016 had a rate of 81 percent.

“The state is trending upward, and so is our school district,” RFSD Superintendent Rob Stein said. “This year we had a little bit of a fluctuation, but that is typical of smaller numbers.”

The smaller the number of students, the more rates will fluctuate in any given year. A total of 372 students out of a class of 442 district students who entered the ninth grade in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt graduated within four years of starting high school.

“If you were to graph us with the trend-line, we’re trending in the right direction,” Stein said.

The neighboring Aspen School District, which had a graduating class of 134 in 2018, had a 95 percent graduation rate. Garfield County District Re-2, which includes Rifle, Silt and New Castle, had a 2018 graduation rate of 81 percent. And, Garfield District 16 (Parachute-Battlement Mesa) had class size of 69, and of that 85 percent graduated.

“We yet again are consistently higher in our graduation rate with economically disadvantaged students than the state,” Stein also pointed out. “We work very hard to be supportive of all our students, and are especially mindful of the students who might have more risk factors.”

nurturing English learners

Stein noted that graduation rates for Hispanic students who are learning English is still a matter of concern for the district.

Graduation rates for Hispanic students dipped considerably, from 82 percent in 2017 to 74 percent in 2018. Students in the English language-learning program had a graduation rate of 48 percent in 2018, far below the state average of 67 percent.

“It seems to tell us the same story that we’ve known for the past few years; that some of our demographic patterns have shifted,” Stein said.

Stein attributes part of that decline to the family structures of English learning students coming to the Roaring Fork Valley. In the past, students in the program were mainly coming from Mexico and arrived as young children as part of stable family households immigrating in search of economic opportunities.

In the past four years, more students began coming from more unstable countries, mainly El Salvador, and are slightly older when they arrived in the valley. These students, Stein said, were often pushed out of their home countries as refugees from violence and warlike conditions, and frequently do not come as part of nuclear families.

“That newcomer population is very high risk,” Stein said.

The district is working hard to help the students in this challenging category, but there is only so much that can be done in three or four years, considering where the students are starting, Stein said.

Instead of being disappointed by the low graduation rates for English-learning students, Stein wants to set a new goal of keeping those students in the schools, even if it takes seven years for them to graduate. Of the English-proficient Hispanic students who were part of the class of 2015, 80 percent had graduated as of last May, according to the recent data.

“That’s gratifying. Our goal is to hang on to them, keep them in our system, assist them and ultimately have them graduate,” Stein said.

tphippen@postindependent.com