The statewide high school graduation rate rose to 88.2% in 2020, according to Utah State Board of Education data released last week, and some local districts were among those that saw an increase in graduates.
The figure came as a pleasant surprise to many who were unsure how schools unexpectedly shifting online last spring in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic would affect academic outcomes.
“Utah students showed remarkable resiliency by overcoming the obstacles that the pandemic put in their path last spring to complete their education on time,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson in a statement.
Ogden and Weber school districts had a higher percentage of seniors graduate in 2020, while Davis School District saw a slight decrease.
In 2019, Davis School District graduated 96% of its seniors, but in 2020 that proportion dropped to 94.2%, which is still six points above the statewide rate. The third and fourth highest graduating high schools in the state are located in that district, with Bountiful High at 97.8% and Farmington High, in its second year of operation, achieving 97.6%.
Weber School District also came in above the state’s overall rate as 89.3% of seniors graduated. The district’s graduation rate in 2019 was 2.3 points lower than in 2020, and at 87% was also below the statewide rate of 87.4%.
The most progress was seen in the Ogden School District, which added 2.6 points this year for a graduation rate of 81.6%. Although the district’s rate is well below the state’s, it has gone up by more than 13% in the last four years, Superintendent Rich Nye said in a school board meeting Thursday.
“That doesn’t happen by accident,” Nye said. “That happens with intentionality and moving the needle on things that matter.”
Throughout the state, some of the lowest graduation rates were at alternative high schools, where the majority of students are those who have fallen behind on credits and wouldn’t be able to graduate from a traditional school.
George Washington High and Mountain High, alternative schools in the Ogden and Davis school districts, respectively, saw drops in their graduation rates. George Washington fell from 36.6% to 33.3%, while Mountain High went from a graduation rate above 95% to 78.4%. Weber School District’s alternative high school, Two Rivers High, managed a significant increase in its graduation rate. It rose from 81.5% to 90.1% — a rate higher than some of the district’s traditional high schools.
The Ogden School District’s demographics look different from most districts in Utah. It is one of just two districts that has a non-white majority — 50.8% of students are Hispanic. The only other is San Juan County, which is 53.6% American Indian. It is also one of the poorest districts in the state, with 18 of its 19 schools being classified by the U.S. Department of Education as Title I, meaning they have a high concentration of students experiencing poverty.
Students who identify as Hispanic in the Ogden School District appeared to drive the rising graduation rate there. According to Nye, 83.6% of those students graduated, compared with 81.1% of their white peers. Statewide, the Hispanic graduation rate was 80.2%.
The district also had a higher proportion of English learners graduate than the overall state number with 83.1% versus the state’s 73.3%. Three of the school district’s elementary schools were recently recognized by the Utah State Board of Education as having excellent and exemplary English language instruction.
Economically disadvantaged students in the district continue to struggle to obtain their high school diploma. Statewide, students from that category graduated at a rate of 78.4%. In the Ogden School District, that rate was 76.4%, Nye said.
“We don’t see a lot of gaps among our student groups. There are some among different student groups, but we’re proud that we’re closing the gaps in many ways,” Nye said.
A complete list of graduation rates at schools in the state can be viewed at https://bit.ly/2ILunut.