FARMINGTON — Davis School District has made significant gains in its high school graduation rates over the past decade, including increases in the percentages of minority groups and students with disabilities who are graduating.
Davis had an overall graduation rate of 96% at the end of the 2018-2019 school year, according to documents presented at a Davis school board workshop Jan. 22. These numbers square with graduation rates released in January by the Utah State Board of Education.
The district's overall graduation rate is one of the highest in the state, second only to Juab School District, a small district headquartered in Nephi with one high school. Juab had a total enrollment of 2,600 in 2018-2019. Davis School District has 10 high schools and had a total enrollment of about 72,300 in 2018-2019. It's the second largest district in the state.
"We've been chasing Juab School District for first place in the state for about three or four years, and we're still chasing them," said Logan Toone, assistant superintendent for Davis School District, at the board workshop.
"We moved up from 95 to 96%, and we thought for sure we had them," Toone continued, "and they moved up from 96% to 97%, and so we're still second highest graduation rate in the state of Utah for now. Juab ... they know we're coming for them. ... Our ten comprehensive high schools are a little bit more of an animal to move."
While the district is second overall in the state, it has the highest graduation rate of the state's large districts. The next large districts behind Davis were Cache and Nebo, both with a graduation rate of 93%.
Alpine, the state's largest district, with about 79,750 students, has a graduation rate of 92%, fourth highest of the state's large districts. Washington and Canyons both had a graduation rate of 90%, while Jordan came in at 88%.
Weber School District was right behind Jordan, with a graduation rate of 87%, while Ogden School District trailed toward the end of the pack of larger districts, with a graduation rate of 79%.
Davis School District's overall rate has gone up more than 20% since 2009, when it was 75%.
Driving this increase isn't a lowering of standards, but a more intense focus on not letting kids fall through the cracks in junior high and high schools, said John Zurbuchen, assistant superintendent for Davis School District.
Teams at every high school in the district now hold regular meetings to discuss students at risk of not graduating, Zurbuchen said.
Many of the names brought to the meetings are suggestions of teachers and counselors, said Dan Linford, supervisor over high schools for the district.
At first, the district requirement to hold these meetings felt like "an imposition because we weren't familiar with our students," Linford said. "They were rolling out names of kids that we didn't know their story. By the time I was a principal, I knew the name and face and story of every single kid on our list — and that was the difference."
"Now it is part of the culture," Zurbuchen said. "If the district did not set up that meeting, the schools would have it themselves. They see it as an essential part of what they do."
Perhaps more significant than the improvement in Davis' overall graduation rate are the improvements in graduation rates among minority groups and students with disabilities, which have been steadily increasing.
Graduation rates among economically disadvantaged students in the district have gone from 70% in 2012 to 90% in 2019.
In 2012, only 52% of English language learners in the district graduated. In 2019, that rate climbed to 93%. There was a difference of 32% between the graduation rate of English language learners and the graduation rate of all students in 2012. Now that gap is only 3%.
Comparable improvements are true across minority groups in the district since 2012.
The graduation rate has gone up 24% among students identifying as African American/Black, 39% among students identifying as American Indian, 15% among students identifying as Asian, 26% among students identifying as Hispanic/Latino and 18% among students identifying as Pacific Islander.
The graduation rate of students with disabilities has gone from up 16%, from 59% to 75%.