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Published January 23, 2013, 05:42 PM

GF, EGF Follow National Trends for High Graduation Rates, Low Dropout Numbers

Local school graduation rates have risen steadily in recent years, following a national trend that shows the highest rates since 1976.

By: Jennifer Johnson, Grand Forks Herald

Local school graduation rates have risen steadily in recent years, following a national trend that shows the highest rates since 1976.

Although school officials say the 78 percent graduation rate reflects the struggling econo-my and more competition for jobs, more than a fifth of students are still failing to get their diploma in four years, according to a recent study of 2010 rates by the National Center for Education Statistics.

School officials here attribute their high graduation rates and 2 percent or less dropout rates to good intervention programs, low mobility among families and a focus on the im-portance of education.

Graduation rates in 2010 for North Dakota and Minnesota were neck-to-neck at 88.4 and 88.2 percent, respectively, according to the study. Wisconsin and Vermont had a 91 percent graduation rate, while Nevada had 58 percent and Washington, D.C., had 60 percent.

High rates for GF, EGF

The four-year graduation rate in Grand Forks was 83.9 percent last year out of 2,060 stu-dents enrolled. The graduation goal for all North Dakota schools is 89 percent.

The rate has increased by 5 percent since 2007, and Assistant Superintendent Jody Thompson attributes that to strong intervention programs.

Students can get remedial and homework assistance during the day on any subject level, and they also generally take fewer classes during the year because of block scheduling, he said.

“Students that might be at risk for not graduating are identified very early on, and given support from teachers and paraprofessionals that can keep them on track,” he said.

East Grand Forks high schools have followed a similar trend. At Senior High, the rate was 85.5 percent in 2011, with 152 students graduating that year, said Superintendent Dave Pace.

The graduation rate there has not strayed too far from the mark in the past five years, ex-cept for an upswing to 89.9 percent in 2010. Pace said he believes part of the stable gradua-tion rate is because of fewer students moving out of the district.

“We don’t get a lot of student movement,” he said. “There’s more than in previous years, but research shows that the more you’re moving around, the less possibility you have of graduating on time.”

Catholic-affiliated Sacred Heart High School has maintained a 99 percent graduation rate since 1999. On average, 25 students graduate from the school each year.

“There’s a high expectation, not only among the faculty but also the students, that you need to be doing what you’re supposed to be doing,” said Principal Phil Meyer. “Academics are why you’re here, though that doesn’t mean there’s no focus on athletics.”

In recent years, Minnesota and North Dakota adjusted the way they track graduation by basing it on four-year rates with incoming freshman for better accuracy.

Other graduates

While the national dropout rate was about 3 percent, the percentage of students who don’t graduate within four years is low in the area.

School officials said it can be attributed to several factors, such as families moving or new students who can’t quite meet graduation requirements then finish later.

In Grand Forks, about 60 students don’t graduate within the average time each year, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re drop outs. That’s the number of students who get their GED’s, he said.

“We will lose some students who want to work or have some family issues,” he said. “Our goal is to always get those kids back into an alternative environment, whether through adult education classes or through Community High School.”

At East Grand Forks Senior High, 2 percent of students don’t graduate within four years and at Sacred Heart, it’s even less. Most students who leave have transferred to other area schools, said Meyer.

“I can’t even think of a handful that dropped out of school,” he said.