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High school graduation rates on the uptick in North Dakota, Minnesota

Red River seniors react to a tribute video during commencement Sunday at the Alerus Center in 2017. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

After a slight dip in the 2015-16 school year, North Dakota's four-year graduation rate for high schoolers grew last school year, according to data from the state's Department of Public Instruction.

In the 2015-2016 school year, the state reported a four-year graduation rate of 87.3 percent, which dropped a bit to 87 percent the following year, the DPI reported. For the 2017-18 school year, 88 percent of North Dakota high schoolers graduated in four years.

The statewide dropout rate held steady at about 2 percent from 2015 through 2017 — a figure mirrored in the Grand Forks Public School District. The dropout rate refers to students who were enrolled at some point during the school year and didn't return the following year, according to the DPI.

At the same time, Grand Forks' graduation rate has been slightly below the statewide average since 2015. The district, which reported an enrollment of nearly 7,500 students this year, had a graduation rate of 86.8 percent in the 2015-16 year. That figure fell by nearly 1 percent the following year. In the 2017-18 year, 85.9 percent of Grand Forks high schoolers graduated on time.

Fargo Public Schools, which enrolled nearly 12,000 students this school year, logged a graduation rate of 83.8 percent in the 2017-18 school year. That's down from 87.2 percent in the 2015-2016 school year, and 84.8 percent in the following year.

Catherine Gillach, assistant superintendent of secondary education in Grand Forks, guessed that the size of some smaller districts may actually work to their advantage.

"In North Dakota, there's great variance between the size of the district. Typically, the smaller districts have greater ability of staff to work with students in a more intimate manner," Gillach said.

At the same time, though, Bismarck Public Schools' graduation rate has hovered around 90 percent since 2015. The district's rate has been higher than the statewide average over that time period.

Bismarck enrolled more than 13,000 students in public schools in the most current school year.

For those students who might have trouble in a traditional high school setting, Grand Forks offers enrollment at Community High School.

Students typically take just two classes a day for around four or five weeks. Then, they can switch to two new classes, according to Principal Terry Bohan.

"The mission of our school is to promote another road to high school graduation, as opposed to being another place for dropouts" Bohan said. "The traditional model works very well for a lot of kids. The reality though is there are some it doesn't work for, and that's who we have to keep our eyes on at Community High School."

Meanwhile, in Minnesota, graduation rates have been on a steady uptick since 2013, according to state data.

In 2017, the state reported a graduation rate of 82.7 percent, up from 82.5 percent in the prior year and 82.1 percent in 2015. In 2013, Minnesota logged a graduation rate of 80.4 percent.

The East Grand Forks Public School District's graduation rates have been above the state average over the last five years. In 2017, the district reported a graduation rate of 89.1 percent.

Dan Niepow

Niepow covers social and community issues for the Grand Forks Herald. Before joining the paper, he worked as a magazine writer and editor. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he currently resides over the river in East Grand Forks, Minn. To reach Niepow with story ideas, send him an email at dniepow@gfherald.com or call him at (701) 780-1110. Follow him on Twitter @dniep.

(701) 780-1110
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