Despite the Wyoming high school graduation rate improving for the fifth consecutive year, Teton County schools were not among the 15 school districts that posted graduation rates of 90 percent and above.
The Teton County school district’s class of 2017-18 saw the lowest graduation rate since the 2011-12 school year.
Superintendent Gillian Chapman said there are individual, personal explanations for all the students who didn’t make it to the finish line.
“Obviously, we’re not thrilled about it,” she said. “However, there’s a variety of reasons that students leave our schools. Some of them are health- or mental-health-related issues. Some of them are familial issues beyond a student’s control.”
For example, she said, a student who leaves to go to a treatment facility wouldn’t count as a graduate. Another situation she said happens “fairly frequently” is a student returning to Mexico to be with family.
Other reasons why students might not be reflected as graduating in four years include taking a mission trip or leaving to finish their schooling elsewhere. Special education students are included in the graduation rate calculation but have until the age of 21 to receive a diploma, which might skew the results.
In addition, Chapman said, the middle and high schools have grown, and teachers have “more students today than they’ve had in the past.”
In short, it’s complicated.
“I think it’s important for readers and the community to understand that these are individual students with individual issues and priorities and perspectives and needs, and so a blanket or broad brushstroke of ‘This is the reason’ is simplistic,” information coordinator Charlotte Reynolds said. “It’s really easy to look at something like a graduate rate and assume that reflects something specific, where it actually may reflect something different.”
Between Jackson Hole High School and Summit Innovations, 165 students graduated of the 188 who were up for graduation. The graduation rate of 87.8 percent is still higher than the state average of 81.7 percent, but it’s lower than rates in previous years, which used to hover around 95 percent but dropped slightly last year.
In 2016-17, Teton County schools had a 93.5 percent four-year graduation rate. In 2015-16, it was 95.9 percent; in 2014-15, 95.9 percent; in 2013-14, 95.7 percent; in 2012-13, 89 percent; in 2011-12, 81.4 percent; in 2010-11, 87.9 percent; and in 2009-10, 93 percent.
Teton County has more stringent graduation requirements than the state.
“We’re already expecting more of our students than the state does,” Chapman said.
The Wyoming Department of Education calculates graduation rates using the methodology established by the U.S. Department of Education. Students are counted in the four-year “on time” high school graduation rate if they earn a diploma by Sept. 15 following their cohort’s fourth and fifth year. Five- and six-year graduation rates are also calculated and can be found online at EDU.Wyoming.gov.
Part of the district’s vision for 2022 is 100 percent of graduates being “life ready,” and Chapman said the data doesn’t derail the district from that goal.
“Of course, we want 100 percent of our students to graduate, and that’s important,” Chapman said. “However, going back to our life-readiness goals, they don’t necessarily go hand in hand. I think it’s important that we were looking at each student as an individual and providing the opportunity and the support that individual students need to be successful. ... I would never put the district’s goal of 100 percent graduation ahead of the individual needs of any given student.”