By Nate Robson, Oklahoma Watch
Oklahoma’s high school graduation rate has dropped, with low-income students seeing the largest decline, according to the latest data available from the state Department of Education.
The state’s overall graduation rate was 82.7 percent in school year 2013-2014, down from 84.9 percent in 2012-2013, the data show.
Those are the first two years the state has reported graduation rates using a four-year cohort measure being implemented across the nation. The rate represents the percentage of incoming freshmen who earn a high school diploma within four years.
The decline in 2013-2014 occurred in all student subgroups, including race, income, special education and students who do not speak English.
Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, said it’s too early to read a lot into a one-year decline.
The national rate for 2013-2014 is not available yet, but in 2012-2013 Oklahoma’s rate exceeded the national rate of 81 percent, which was a record high for the country.
Hime said he didn’t know why Oklahoma’s rate decreased.
“I am not sure if there is some anomaly,” he said. “My hope is that whatever happens, you see a bounce-back over the previous 85 percent.”
The graduation rate for students considered to be living in poverty was 76.3 percent in 2013-2014, down 3.6 percentage points over the previous year. That was the largest drop among student subgroups tracked by the state.
Students who do not speak English as a primary language had the lowest graduation rate at 61 percent, down 3 percentage points. Hispanic students experienced the smallest decrease, at 1 percentage point. Their 2013-2014 graduation rate was 77.6 percent.
Graduation rates for the state’s two largest school districts also decreased.
Oklahoma City Public Schools’ graduation rate dropped from 75.3 percent in 2012-2013 to 72.5 percent the following year. Tulsa Public Schools’ rate slipped from 63.7 percent to 63 percent.
Robyn Miller, deputy superintendent for educator effectiveness and policy research at the state Education Department, also said she does not know why the state saw across-the-board declines in graduation rates.
Historically, Oklahoma’s graduation rates have trended upward.
Many education experts expected the graduation rate to decrease in 2012-2013 when the state switched to the new cohort method, which is considered more rigorous and accurate. Instead, under the new measure, the rate rose to 84.9 percent.
Miller said there are concerns that not all districts are accurately reporting under the new system yet. Rates for many districts are being withheld by the state for student privacy reasons, but available numbers show at least 35 districts had a 100 percent graduation rate.
“There are districts that report 100 percent and that can’t be possible,” she said. “For whatever reason, they don’t understand how to report.”
Oklahoma is applying for a grant that aims to raise the state’s graduation rate to 90 percent. If other high-ranking states’ rates don’t improve, hitting the goal would tie Oklahoma with Iowa for the highest graduation rate in the nation.
Miller said the three-year, $200,000 grant would come through GradNation, a national campaign that focuses on raising graduation rates, and Pearson, an education company that develops curriculum and testing. Oklahoma proposes to use the grant to fund graduation efforts in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Cherokee, Comanche and Jackson counties, then would replicate approaches in other counties.
Only three states will receive the grant.
“We are looking at what’s already worked and what can be replicated and expanded,” Miller said. “We’re really trying to make this (application) Oklahoma-specific to really make us stand out.”
Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism organization that produces in-depth, investigative content on a range of public-policy issues facing the state. For more Oklahoma Watch content, go to www.oklahomawatch.org.