No it’s not a new high stakes test our students will have to pass to graduate, although let’s keep that to ourselves; the legislators don’t need any help. During the last six months there’s been a lot of public discussion regarding the Wyoming graduation rate. It was certainly center stage during the elections and the legislative session. And it’s one of the key factors used by the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) and the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) to determine if a school or district has made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Simply stated, it’s one of the statistics they use to determine if we’re failing. The current standard for the graduation rate in Wyoming is 80%.

We understand and accept that we need to be held accountable for getting kids graduated. No argument here. Where you will get an argument is when we start to talk about the guidelines used to calculate the graduation rate used by the WDE. As I prepared to write this post, I began to wonder how much people really knew about the graduation rate and how it’s calculated. We are a school district after all, so how better to assess our knowledge than a brief quiz. Here’s a few questions regarding the calculation of our graduation rate. Let’s see how you do. Best of luck, the USDE guidance document on this subject is 38 pages long…

Q1: A student gets a terrible illness during their sophomore year and misses 6 months of school recuperating. They re-enroll, complete high school, and graduate as valedictorian after another 3.5 years (4.5 years total). Is that student considered a graduate or non-graduate?

Q2: A student leaves our district and transfers to a school somewhere in Pennsylvania. We never hear from that student again. Will this student be counted in our graduation rate calculation?

Q3: A junior student dies in a car crash. Will this student be counted in our graduation rate calculation?

Q4: A student from California arrives in March. He is chronologically a senior, but is 12 credits deficient. He receives extra help in our district and is able to graduate in his fifth year. Is that student considered a graduate or non-graduate?

Q5: A senior student is convicted of a felony offense in October. He is jailed for 18 months. He does not attend graduation as a result of his incarceration. Will this student be counted in our graduation rate calculation?

Before we get to the answers, it’s important to understand a key term in calculating the graduation rate. That term is cohort. A cohort is a group of people who are statistically grouped together, usually based on a specific time period they spent together. Federal graduation rates are based on a cohort group of students that begin as they enter high school. Any student that joins that group at any time during their high school career enters that cohort (think grade or graduation class). We have four years to graduate a cohort, regardless of all but a few extenuating circumstances (death, emigration to a foreign country, or transfer). Alright…knowing that, let’s see how you did.

A1: Non-graduate. It doesn’t matter if you get Ebola and manage to survive. If you don’t graduate in four years, you count against our graduation rate.

A2: Trick question. Maybe you were thinking they transferred out so they wouldn’t count against us. Depends. Unless we can obtain written documentation from the school to which they transferred, they count against us. Our school district has a very high mobility rate (meaning we have a lot of students moving in and out during the school year). A lot of our students just leave and don’t say where they’re going. Unless our high school secretaries can track down these families and get them to send us the documentation we need, they count against our graduation rate. It’s hard for me to accept that should be the sole responsibility of our district.

A3: Same answer as #2. We have to get documentation of the death. Think about that for a minute. After one of our families has been through that, we have to call and ask for documentation.

A4: Any time a student enrolls in Pinedale High school they enter our cohort. It doesn’t matter what the past circumstances might be, we have four years from the day they entered the 9th grade (in any school district) to get them graduated. If they dropped out of school in another state for their sophomore and junior year, and then move to Pinedale and re-enroll in March of what should have been their senior year, they count against us unless we get that kid graduated in June. Doesn’t matter if it‘s mathematically impossible and that we weren’t responsible for years 1-3.

A5: This one just floors me. A student gets sent to jail and doesn’t graduate. You guessed it. Unless the state has a school system that specifically serves incarcerated students (Wyoming doesn’t) which would be considered a transfer, it counts against us. Not something we deal with on a regular basis, but I’m sure you can imagine some schools in other parts of the country that are pulling their hair out. Talk about set up to fail.

We need to do a better job of getting all of our students graduated, especially students who are at risk for dropping out. It’s something we’re working on, but as the legislators push us to greater conformity with the funding model, finding ways to fund these types of programs becomes increasingly difficult. I’m starting to sound like a broken record when it comes to accountability, but all we want is a fair shake. I know what I think, but I’ll let you be the judge.


About Jay Harnack

Superintendent of Sublette County School District #1
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  1. Mark Pape says:

    Outstanding post Jay! Thanks for providing that information in way that everyone can understand and apply the reasoning (or maybe lack of reasoning) used in graduation rate calculations. I think this will open some eyes as to why our rate is what it is.

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