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Nevada high school graduation rate dips, reversing upward trend

Updated December 10, 2020 - 1:20 pm

Nevada’s high school graduation rates slipped for the Class of 2020 after several years of steady gains, according to data from the Nevada Department of Education released Thursday.

The statewide rate dropped 1.5 percentage points, from a record 84.1 percent in 2019 to 82.6 percent in 2020. It was the first decline in the rate in at least a decade, a period over which it climbed from 62.6 percent in 2011 to 84.1 percent in 2019, according to state data posted online.

Clark County, the state’s largest public school district and the fifth-largest in the country, saw a 2.6 percentage point decrease, falling to 83.1 percent from last year’s rate of 85.8.

Before the decline, CCSD’s rate had risen every year since at least 2015, the most recent year for which state data was available online. During that period it rose from 72.1 percent in 2015 to 85.8 percent in 2019.

Disruption surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw schools close abruptly on March 16, probably played a role in the downturn, leaving students to complete their year and earn their diplomas through virtual learning.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jhone Ebert acknowledged that work needed to be done to address the decline in a media call Wednesday but said she was pleasantly surprised that the pandemic didn’t have an even greater impact.

In a Thursday statement to the Review-Journal, Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara said: “As stated in our FOCUS: 2024 goals, we will continue working on strong, rigorous, standards-based instruction with opportunities for support and enrichment for all students. The graduation rate is just one of many measures we are monitoring closely and addressing through a continuous cycle of improvement in order to prepare students for college and the workforce.”

‘Our students persevered’

“We’re proud that overall, the state’s graduation rate has remained over 80 percent for a fourth year in a row,” Ebert said. “We know (it) needs to be higher, but given the pandemic, our students persevered; our teachers continued on. They made sure, even though they didn’t have the normal graduation activities, they knew they wanted a diploma and were on track to get it.”

Ebert also praised increased rates in nine primarily smaller and rural school districts and continued improvement in schools overseen by the State Public Charter School Authority.

Most of the discussion about the graduation rate at a meeting of the Nevada State Board of Education on Thursday where the data was presented focused on the types of diplomas students 2020 earned, including a breakdown by race and ethnicity.

For the Class of 2020, 23.9 percent of students earned a college and career ready diploma, and 16.8 percent earned an advanced diploma, which Ebert said represented a “great trend.”

Board member Felicia Ortiz said the most revealing slide in the presentation was diploma type by race and ethnicity, noting the continuing disparities among subgroups are concerning.

Among Asian students who graduated in 2020 statewide, 46.4 percent earned a college and career ready diploma, compared with 27.6 percent of white students, 14 percent of Black students and 19 percent of Hispanic or Latino students.

“So how can we even those out is my question,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz asked: “Is there any effort planned to dig into this data a little bit further to find out what potential obstacles might exist that we can hopefully remove?”

Discrepancies among subgroups

Peter Zutz, administrator of assessment, data and accountability management for the Nevada Department of Education, responded that the report “is probing us to ask more questions that would drive us to have a better, clearer understanding of what might be going on.”

He said department officials are having internal discussions and are working with school districts to gain a better understanding of the issue.

Board President Elaine Wynn said the data illuminates “the discrepancy, yet again, in achievement, and it seems as though our Hispanic and Latino population is starting to make some progress, but our African American groups are still struggling and we’ve got to address that.

With a graduating class of 92 students in 2020, White Pine County School District had the greatest gain in graduation rates, climbing from 66.9 percent in 2019 to 82.9 percent in 2020.

Graduation rates in Washoe County, the state’s second-largest school district, decreased by just under 1 percentage point, from 86.05 to 85.11 percent.

Statewide, graduation rates for students from nearly all ethnic groups fell, according to the data, apart from rates for students who identify as American Indian or Alaska Native, which increased by .02 points to 74.4 percent.

Students who identify as Pacific Islanders had the greatest percentage drop at 3.5 percent, but the overall rate for the group stood at 85 percent.

Graduation rates for students who identify as Hispanic dropped 1.7 points to 81.3 percent — below the state average — while graduation rates for students who identify as Black or African American dropped 2.64 percentage points to 69.5 percent.

Students with disabilities continued to graduate at a rate below 70 percent, dropping 1.1 percent to 66 percent.

Students experiencing poverty also saw their graduation rates drop 1.7 percentage points to 79 percent, while rates for English language learners dropped 1.5 points to 75 percent.

Contact Aleksandra Appleton at 702-383-0218 or aappleton@reviewjournal.com. Follow @aleksappleton on Twitter.

Review-Journal staff writer Julie Wootton-Greener contributed to this report.

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