Colorado’s on-time graduation rate among lowest in the country for high school students


Shauna Twardzik talks to students at South High School during an orientation last month in Denver.

Colorado’s high school graduation rate ranks as the seventh lowest in the country, according to data released Monday.

President Obama celebrated a record-breaking national on-time high school graduation rate. Data released by the U.S. Department of Education shows that 83.2 percent of students graduated on time during the 2014-15 school year. That’s up almost 1 percentage point over the previous year.

Colorado’s on-time graduation rate was 77.3 percent, which was unchanged from the previous school year. Colorado’s graduation rate had grown steadily for the previous eight years.

Colorado officials like to point out that the state’s five-year graduation rate is much higher, at nearly 82 percent. And in 2015, 78 percent of the state’s school districts had graduation rates higher than 80 percent.

“We’re committed to all students getting across the finish line,” said Judith Martinez, director of dropout prevention and student re-engagement at the state education department. “For some students it takes longer.”

Colorado high schools offer a variety of programs that can keep students in high school for five years, including ASCENT, which allows students to earn college credit for free. Students who are learning English as a second language, a fast growing demographic in Colorado, and those learning with disabilities, also have access to additional learning for a fifth year, Martinez said.

Forty-six percent of students who did not graduate in 2015 were still enrolled in their high school, Martinez said.

Another possible reason for Colorado’s low graduation rate, Martinez said, is that students who transfer in between school districts during high school often face different graduation requirements. Unlike most other states, Colorado leaves graduation requirements to local school districts. That means if a student moves from Aurora to Westminster during their high school year, they can be asked to fulfill different requirements and courses they took in Aurora might not count toward graduation in Westminster.

Colorado high schools are in the process of adopting more universal graduation requirements. The State Board of Education last year, released a new “menu” of options for schools to use to shape their own graduation guidelines. The new requirements should be in place by 2020.

See how the states rank in on-time graduation.

Find the record at your own Colorado school.

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