Four-year graduation rates in Blaine County held mostly steady last year, a new report shows, though a closer look at some student subgroups shows some changes.

Overall, 85 percent of high school students in the district were projected to graduate in four years in 2019, according to a report presented Tuesday by Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes. That rate was down only slightly from the year before, when 86 percent of students graduated in four years, and above the statewide rate of 80.7 percent in 2019.

The district has seen a slight dip in the graduation rate since 2017, when 91 percent graduated in four years. But Holmes attributes the lower rate largely to students with disabilities completing high school with new “adapted” requirements, who, for statistical purposes, aren’t counted in the regular graduation rate. Under the old standards, the graduation rate for 2019 would be 90 percent.

“The rules have changed, the target has changed, and we’re adjusting to the new target,” Holmes said.

About 1 in 4 nongraduates in 2019—11 out of 39—can be attributed to the adapted requirements, according to the report. Another 11 dropped out, while seven are still in high school working on their diplomas. Others obtained their GED, are participating in VOICE II or have an unknown status.

Since 2014, the percentage of nongraduates with substance abuse issues has been cut in half, from about 62 percent to 28 percent. Holmes attributed that in part to steps taken by the district in recent years, including a new policy to only expel students with known substance abuse issues if they are harming others, for example, selling illicit substances to them.

“If they’re only harming themselves we try to keep them in school, to-ward graduation, while they’re wrestling with their demons,” Holmes said.

Of the 2019 group, 87 percent of white students, 83 percent of Hispanic students, 82 percent of economically disadvantaged students and 82 percent of English learner students graduated in four years. Fifty percent of students with disabilities were counted under the four-year graduation rate in 2019 versus 80 percent in 2017, with the drop attributed to the adapted requirements.

“We are moving forward and we have proven to ourselves that we can impact kids with substance abuse,” Holmes said. “We can impact our Hispanic student group, we can impact our economically disadvantaged group and we can impact our English learners group. We have done that. We just need to do it all simultaneously.”

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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