The State Department of Education released the cohort graduation rate for Idaho high schools last month, but local school administrators and counselors said it is not an accurate portrayal of their rural schools.
Challis High School Counselor Angela Sugden said the cohort graduation rate compares students who enter a school in the ninth grade to the number of students who graduate from that school. She described the state’s decision to use that system as “confusing.” Teachers and administrators have no control over whether a student will stay at a high school for four years, and Sugden said students who leave before graduating count against the school.
“It’s what they use, but I wish they would use something else,” Sugden said. “The cohort graduation system isn’t indicative of our school’s success.”
It doesn’t matter if a student moves, switches schools or just stops coming to class. She said they could all potentially be listed as drop outs.
“It knocks against our school,” CHS Principal Kari Alexander said. “We do what we can to appeal.”
Alexander made two appeals last year for students who left the high school. They entered as freshman but did not graduate, and the principal said despite the appeals they were still counted as drop outs.
Sugden and Alexander said their preferred method for tracking graduation success is the go-on rate. It measures success by tracking students who continue their education. Sudgen said Challis seniors perform well in that matter, with 18 of 20 graduating seniors moving onto higher education.
Nearby school administrators shared a similar sentiment. Salmon Superintendent Chris Born said it would be better for smaller schools to use the go-on rate.
“Salmon has become a transient school, so it would be better for us if it was the go-on rate that counted,” Born said.
Mackay High School Principal Nicole Latsch said using the go-on rate is a better model to track student success. Mackay High’s college and career Adviser Amber Hulse agreed and said the way the state measures graduation isn’t reflective of rural schools such as Mackay, Challis and Salmon. Schools in rural communities don’t have the resources larger schools have and don’t have comparable student demographics, the educators said.
However, local administrators and counselors said before switching to the go-on rate, state lawmakers would have to change what counts as going on. Sugden and Hulse said the Department of Education doesn’t count military service, community college, serving a mission or technical training as continued education.
Born said the go-on rate is geared to get graduating seniors into four-year universities. It gives teachers and counselors an incentive to push students to state-funded colleges.
“Eastern Idaho’s rates look terrible because a lot of kids go on missions after graduation,” Born said.
Latsch said it would take a lot of time and effort to make the changes she and her fellow educators would like to see and at the moment student needs take precedence over tracking success.
“We just want our kids to graduate with a plan,” Latsch said. “College isn’t for all kids. Some kids, especially around here, have their farms and become very successful individuals.”