Carson City, state high school graduation rates decline; COVID cited

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For the first time, Carson City School District’s high school graduation rate did not improve in a five-year trend, primarily due to COVID-19, according to district data released last week.

Carson City's 2020 rate was announced at 84.04%, coming in at less than 2018-19's rate of 86.79%. The drop falls in line with Nevada’s trends that showed a 1.5% dip from 84.11% in 2019 to 82.57% this year after making several years of increases, according to data released by the Nevada Department of Education.

On Dec. 8, Ricky Medina, CCSD director of accountability and assessment, gave a presentation remotely to the Board of Trustees on the class of 2020 graduation rates, explaining that the pandemic impacted the district’s traditional efforts to keep students on track at the end of the school year with earning their final credits needed to graduate.

CCSD’s graduation rates consistently went up between 2016 and 2019, totaling a 6.48-point average. Carson High School went up 7.8 percentage points and Pioneer went up 10.35 percentage points in that timeframe.

This year, there were 537 graduates, 102 non-graduates and 145 who transferred from outside Carson City. Of this total number, CHS had 460 graduates, Pioneer had 54 and Carson Adult Education produced 23 graduates.

The state’s rate in general has remained above 80% for the past four consecutive years, according to the NDE. Thirteen districts exceeded the state average, and 10 districts had rates that increased over the previous year with White Pine making the largest gain from 66.9% to 82.9%.

Medina credited Carson City teachers and administrators for pursuing students on the cusp of finishing their high school careers with the right amount of credits just as the pandemic set in during the spring.

“Our sites really rose to the occasion, even though we were out of school for a significant period of time,” Medina said during the board meeting. “That number went down only 2 percentage points.”

The formula used to determine graduation rates is to take the total number of students who first in enrolled in high school in the 2016-17 school year as a freshman and joined the 2020 cohort – even if they transfer schools or move out of the country and return after a period of time – and divide that by the number of students in the adjusted cohort earning regular high school diplomas, or standard, advanced, college and career ready or adult diplomas. Students who actually transfer out of the school district and enroll in another district or die are removed from the cohort, Medina said.

Carson City previously gave adjusted diplomas, but those no longer count toward the graduation rate, he said.

Board President Mike Walker acknowledged the district staff’s efforts to work harder at the end of the 2019-20 school year to keep students engaged as they finished their high school education.

“Even one child not graduating high school is one too many,” he said. “This year, we’ve had some real extreme circumstances.”

Falling behind?

In a follow-up with the Appeal Wednesday, Medina said as COVID-19 hit in March, district staff members were forced to get creative in their approaches to keeping graduating seniors on track, especially those who were perhaps in need of summer school to make up for a few additional classes after going to remote classes during their final semester and struggling to adjust.

“It helped prepared us in some ways we know what we can do to participate in full remote for summer school,” Medina said.

Seniors at the end of the 2019-20 didn’t have to endure the duration of being in full remote as 2020-21’s outgoing graduates, nor do the upcoming cohorts.

“Right now, it’s already half the school year, and students aren’t as successful being in full remote,” he said. “We’re going to know which students are already behind.”

Determining how to help students who need to get caught up academically even faster now is difficult because the district is limited in its options, he said. It’s also harder to convince students to come back for a fifth year or during the summer, if necessary, to finish classes for their diploma.

“We’re trying to talk to students, as well as parents, and we’re trying to throw every single resource as we can at them – social workers, truancy officers on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “Some students, we try to encourage them and ask if they’re interested in joining the military after high school, then we get them in contact with a recruiter or a mentor from ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) … or a school resource officer, whatever, on a kid-by-kid basis.”

It’s important to keep the messaging positive and make sure students understand it’s about being college- or career-ready, he said.

“We try not to be punitive, but with some students, if all the other things don’t work, that ends up being the only choice,” he said.

There are advantages, however, to come out of re-examining Carson City School District’s graduation results from this year as they pertained to COVID-19 and the strategies used to reach students, Medina noted.

“We’re rethinking some of the things we’ve always done, and we’re finding better ways to serve our students,” he said. “Even though it’s rough right now and the rates will be rough at the end of the year, our practices are rough, we will be making improvements because of that.”

Medina, who has now worked with CCSD for about 13 years as a statistician before becoming a director, said he has found his role gratifying preparing students for their paths after graduation.

“The satisfying thing for me is getting more kids to graduate college- and career-ready and if they get to lead the life they want and go off and have a career to pursue,” he said.


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