Graduation rates hold steady despite pandemic

·4 min read

Jun. 10—Despite students having to complete their high school careers remotely, the on-time graduation rate for Minnesota and Mankato's classes of 2020 held steady.

Some smaller districts in the region saw more fluctuation in their graduation rates, according to data released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Education.

Across Minnesota nearly 84% of the Class of 2020 graduated in four years. That's a new record high but up by just one-tenth of a percentage point from the class of 2019.

For Mankato Area Public Schools, graduation rates have held steady between 86-87% for the last four years.

The 2020 rate is up nearly a percent from 2019. Director of Teaching and Learning Travis Olson called that "pretty outstanding" given the challenges of moving to remote learning as the pandemic took hold.

The graduation rates at both East and West high schools topped 90% for at least the second consecutive year while the Central High School area learning center's rate improved to 45%.

Of the 83 Mankato seniors who did not graduate in 2020, 49 were continuing to work toward their diplomas, 19 had dropped out of school and the status of 15 was unknown.

Significant gaps remain for disadvantaged student groups in Mankato and across the state.

"While we have so much to be proud of in Minnesota, we know that we still have work to do to close gaps and increase access, participation and representation to ensure every single student graduates from high school," State Education Commissioner Heather Mueller said in a statement.

In Mankato on-time graduation rates were between 71-78% for the following student groups: Black, Hispanic, special education, English language learners, and those from low-income families. But those groups in Mankato all did better than the statewide averages.

Olson was especially pleased about the district's gap between Black and white students being reduced by 6 percentage points. That's evidence of the district's work to ensure students from all backgrounds are succeeding, he said.

St. Peter Public Schools saw its graduation rate climb back up into its historic position in the low 90s percentile after dipping in the upper 80s the year prior.

High school Principal Annette Engeldinger credited the teachers, other school staff and especially the counselors for helping keeping the seniors on track while at home.

"To stay above 90% during such a challenging time, we're very proud of it," Engeldinger said.

St. Clair High School achieved a 100% graduation rate for the sixth consecutive year and was the only one in the region to do so this year. St. Clair had one of the smallest graduating classes in the region with 34 graduates.

At Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton High School, graduation hit a seven-year high of over 96% — up 1% from the prior year and up 13% from 2014.

"The increase in the graduation rate is one of many indicators of the success students are having in the JWP School District," Supt. Kurt Stumpf said in a statement.

Waseca and Madelia were the only districts in The Free Press coverage area to post graduation rates below the state average.

Madelia has a particularly high percentage of English language learners, of which only 35% graduated on time and contributed to an overall rate of 65%.

Waseca's overall graduation rate was 74% in 2020, down from 88% in 2019.

But Waseca schools Supt. Eric Hudspith said he's happy that the graduation rate at the senior high school was 89%, a number that's held steady in recent years.

"I am very pleased with the way our graduation rates have turned out. Our students have worked very hard," he said.

The lower overall graduation rate, Hudspith said, is due to the district having a higher than usual number of students in the Area Learning Center.

"When you have a pretty high percent of your students in an alternative learning model. it affects those (overall) numbers," he said.

The superintendent said there's a significantly higher percentage of students in the center who take five or six years to graduate compared to those at the senior high school.

Hudspith said one benefit of the pandemic and distance learning was that the district found students in the Area Learning Center benefited from it.

"What we learned is that the flexibility we could offer worked very well for them, so we will continue with more of that," he said.

Local district officials say they do not yet know graduation rates for the class of 2021, which experienced a longer pandemic learning disruption.

Engeldinger said she's less worried about a sizable dip than she was at the beginning of the school year. Many of the seniors who were struggling in those early months were able to catch up and graduate with their peers, she said.

Staff Writer Tim Krohn contributed to this story.