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Slight bad and good news in grad, dropout rates

Colorado’s high school graduation rate declined to 73.9 percent in 2008 from 75 percent the previous year, the state Department of Education reported Thursday.

But, the percentage of students in grades 7-12 who dropped out in the 2007-08 school year declined to 3.8 percent, compared to 4.4 percent the year before.

“While we are disappointed that the progress made last year in terms of the graduation rate has not continued, we are pleased to see a significant decrease in the dropout rate,” said education Commissioner Dwight Jones.

The statewide graduation rate rose from just below 80 percent in 1997 to above 80 percent in 2003 before starting to decline. However, the method for calculating the rate was changed for the 2006-07 school year. (Click here for more detailed information on the CDE website.)

The graduation rate does not include students who’ve received a GED or other designations of high school completion. Colorado’s so-called “completer rate,” which includes such students, was 78.8 percent in 2008, down 1 percent from the prior.

The state’s dropout rated slowly declined from about 3.5 percent in 1996-97 to about 2.5 percent in 2002-03. It then rose to about 4.5 percent in 2005-06 before starting to fall slightly. (Click here for more detailed historic information.)

Nationally, the graduation rate has fluctuated in a relatively narrow range for almost three decades. It was 74.4 percent in 1976-77 and 74.7 percent in 2004-05, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The national status dropout rate in 2006 was 9.3 percent, according to the center. That figure is the percentage of 16-24 year olds who aren’t in high school or don’t have a high school credential, a different statistic than what Colorado reports.

As in past years, there are significant gaps in graduation rates by gender and ethnic groups.

77.4 percent of girls graduated in 2008, 70.7 percent of boys. Both figures were down from the prior year.

Here are the 2008 figures by ethnic group:

  • Hispanic, 55.6 percent
    Native American, 57.5 percent
    Black, 64.1 percent
    White, 81.6 percent
    Asian, 82.8 percent

All groups were down from 2007.

The state has made modest attempts in the last two years to address graduation and dropout rates. A 2007 law created a grant program so that some districts could hire more counselors, and CDE has been operating a pilot Close the Achievement Gap program in six districts.

The 2009 legislative passed House Bill 09-1243, which creates an office of dropout prevention in the department. The office is intended to assist districts in dropout prevention efforts. However, because of Colorado’s fiscal crisis, no state money is provided for the program, which will have to rely on grants to get started.