Graduation rates rise in Jefferson County high schools

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The Jeffco School District has seen another increase in the number of students graduating from high school on time. 

For the 2011-12 school year, Jeffco’s high schools saw an on-time graduation rate of 81.4 percent, an increase of 2.3 percent over the previous year and a 3.3 percent increase since 2009.  

The increase was slightly bigger than the jump the state saw overall. Colorado had a 75.4 percent on-time graduation rate for 2011-12. 

“What I look at terms of graduation, until we hit a 100 percent, we’re not satisfied,” said Jeffco Superintendent Cindy Stevenson. “Of course we’re pleased. … But we still have work to do.”

Stevenson believes four factors play into the district’s increase: higher expectations for students; giving students chances to make up and retake classes; working with kids early when problems begin to develop scholastically; and actively intervening within the first 72 hours of a student dropping out.  

“The first thing, I think — and this sounds like a contradiction in terms — the first thing is you have to have higher expectations. People think when you raise your expectations, the rates will decrease,” Stevenson said. 

The opposite is what happened, Stevenson said. When the district increased the requirements for math, the rates went up. 

“When you increase your expectations, kids tend to meet those expectations,” Stevenson said. “First and foremost, you have to communicate with kids what you expect of them and have kids set goals.”

Along with clearly set goals, Stevenson said, schools must make strategic interventions along the way to keep students on track to graduate. She referred to a John Hopkins University study that found students who fail ninth grade are more likely to drop out of high school.

If the district knows that ninth grade can be a make-or-break year for students, then it should focus intensely on helping freshmen who are at risk of failing. 

“If we can predict these things are going to happen, let’s make sure they don’t happen,” Stevenson said. “Once you know the common factors, you work with those kids early.”

The district also saw a 4.6 percent increase in the number of Hispanic students graduating on time. Yet that number is still more than 25 points lower than the rate for white students in the district.

“Those are one of those achievement gaps we have to work against,” Stevenson said. 

One of the ways the district is working to shrink that gap is by focusing on the beginning of a student’s educational career. The district is focusing on kindergarten with a large population of lower-income students. 

“You have to start with the little ones, and that works its way through the system,” Stevenson said. “You have to start with day one of kindergarten.”

Yet it’s not just about teaching the basics of reading and writing to young kids. It’s also about teaching them that graduating from high school and going to college are what’s expected of them. 

“As a community, we should all be setting that vision for our kids,” Stevenson said. “We really work with our kids to set that vision.”


Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@everegreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22.