The number of high school students graduating across Wyoming climbed again in 2018 and Natrona County High posted its highest four-year graduation rate since at least 2010, though the school district in which it’s located saw its overall percentage drop.
Across Wyoming, 81.7 percent of the 6,901 students who were expected to graduate high school did so in 2018. It’s a jump of 1.5 percent from the 2017 graduating class and represents a fifth consecutive year of growth for the state as a whole, which has climbed from 77.6 percent since 2013.
Additionally, every student subgroup in the state except for one — English-language learners — experienced graduation rate growth last year. That list includes male, female, black, white, American Indian, Hispanic, Asian, homeless, migrant and other student groups.
A student is still counted in the four-year graduation rate if he or she earns a degree by Sept. 15 after the end of their class’s fourth year.
“We set high goals for graduation rates in our plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act, and this increase — for a fifth straight year — just proves that when we work hand-in-hand with our school districts, good things continue to happen,” state Superintendent Jillian Balow said in a statement accompanying the release Tuesday morning. “Raising the graduation rate is a conscious, concerted effort by all. For students getting a high school diploma is a watershed moment — and it means they are now ready to start a career, go off to college, or join the military.”
Balow said the overall state and Native American four-year rates were both the highest the state had seen since it began using its current methodology for calculating graduation figures in 2010.
The news was similarly good for Casper’s west-side high school, Natrona County High. The school’s four-year graduation rate rose to 84 percent last year, up from 81.8 percent in 2017. It’s the highest graduation rate posted by one of the district’s large high schools since at least 2010.
The reviews were less positive districtwide. In total, the Natrona County School District’s four-year rate dipped from 79.3 percent to 78 percent. Kelly Walsh, which posted what officials said was a record-high 83.3 percent in 2017, slid to an 80.6 percent rate last year. Midwest — which had an expected graduating class of 14 in both 2017 and 2018 — fell from a 100 percent graduation rate to a rate of 64.3 percent.
Roosevelt High, the district’s alternative high school, also graduated fewer students: In spring 2017, 45.6 percent of the school’s expected graduates earned a diploma. In 2018, the graduation rate was 35.4 percent.
The results offer positive news for a state that’s hoping to hit an 88 percent graduation rate overall by 2032 but tougher news for the Natrona County School District, whose board has set a goal of an 85 percent graduation rate by the end of the 2019-2020 school year.
The board has just recently begun the process of re-examining that and other broader district goals.
Despite the overall growth across student subgroups, there remains a persistent racial gap in Wyoming schools: While 83.7 percent of white students graduated on time in 2018, just 58.8 percent of Native students earned their diploma in four years. Black and Hispanic students were each several points behind their white peers. Students under special circumstances, like those who are homeless, English-language learners or are eligible for free and reduced lunch, lagged even further behind.
In a call with media Tuesday afternoon, Balow said the department had put more responsibility on local districts to close the achievement gap and that the data from 2018 showed there had been some success in that area. But she acknowledged that more work was needed.
“But it certainly is not where we want it to be; some of the student groups aren’t performing at the same rate that the rest of the state is,” she said. “I’m of the firm belief … that the most impactful changes happen with the focus on the local level within the schools, within classrooms and on a student-by-student basis.”
In Natrona County, the rates for those subgroups was in several places lower than the state average. Fewer than 70 percent of Hispanic students in the class of 2018, for instance, graduated on time, compared to 75.4 percent statewide. Just 42.1 percent of students on an individualized education plan graduated here, compared to 62.7 percent across Wyoming.