More than 82 percent of the Minnesota high school class of 2017 earned diplomas. That, according to the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), is the highest rate on record.

According to MDE, the graduation rate amongst Minnesota high-school seniors is demonstrating an upward trend, showing a 4.3 percent increase since 2012. 

“I am so proud of the work our teachers, administrators and communities have done to increase the number of Minnesota students graduating and to reduce the likelihood that a child’s race or ZIP code will predict their outcome,” said Brenda Cassellius, MDE commissioner.

With an 82.7 percent graduation rate statewide, Cassellius said there is still work to do.

“While our graduation rates have continued to climb and gaps are narrowing, we have too many students who are not receiving a diploma,” said Cassellius. “We have so much more work to do to ensure all children have equitable opportunities and receive the support they need in order to graduate on time and ready for life.”

In the Redwood Area School District, the news regarding graduation rates is even better.

According to Rick Jorgenson, Redwood Valley High School principal, the Class of 2017 had a graduation rate of 90.9 percent. That reflects a 3.9 percent increase since 2012 when 87 percent of Redwood Valley High School seniors received a diploma.

The data released by MDE earlier this year has been adjusted based on a new approach as part of the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Through ESSA, new calculations are being used that take into consideration seven racial/ethnic groups as compared to five categories in the past (adding those identifying as having two or more races and those classified as migrant students). The new calculations also take a different approach regarding the dropout rule.

According to Jorgenson, using the previous rule a student was counted against a school’s graduation rate if they dropped out at any time. So, if a student moved into the district and went to school for a few weeks and then dropped out they would be considered as part of that school’s dropout rate. Under the new calculations, that dropout would be counted in the graduation rate for the school where they attended the majority of their time as a high-school student.

Also under the changes foreign exchange students are not counted in the graduation rate calculations.

The overall numbers are good at Redwood Valley High School, said Jorgenson, but not good enough.

“We still have 9 percent of our students who are not graduating,” he said.

Efforts continue to be made to help meet the ultimate goal of a 100 percent rate.

“We want every student to graduate,” said Jorgensen.

Among the efforts being implemented to encourage students to pursue their high-school diploma is one that happens when students start high school. Called the commitment to graduate ceremony, students in the ninth grade sign a banner pledging to do their best to earn their diploma.

As incentive during that ceremony, Jorgenson talks about the value of a diploma, including the fact that, on average, a student who has earned a high school diploma earned $400,000 more in their lifetime than one who does not have a high-school diploma.

An area where the Redwood Area School District is seeing success is among those students identifying as American Indian. The 2017 graduation rate for RVHS students in that group was 83.3 percent, while the state average is 50.7 percent.

In 2012, the American Indian graduation rate at RVHS was 73.3 percent. Jorgensen said he gives a lot of credit for that to the Indian education program that exists in the district, as it works with that group of students to ensure they are committed to graduating.

The school district also has seen an increase in the graduation rate for those students who qualify for free and reduced lunches. In the Redwood Area School District, the rate is 82.9 percent, while at the state level 69 percent of students in the Class of 2017 in the free and reduced lunch group graduated.

Keeping students in school is about helping them find areas of interest, and for the Redwood Area School District efforts are being implemented to help with that.

According to Jorgensen, there are currently 49 electives being offered to students, and starting with the 2018-19 school year that number is going to increase dramatically. With the addition of space dedicated to career development and hands-on learning, classes that have not been offered will be available to students.

The school district also focuses on helping students as they prepare for life after high school and specific programs, such as Project Lead the Way and the Advanced Placement courses are not only providing students with higher level learning opportunities, they also have the opportunity to earn some college credits along the way.

While there is work left to do, Jorgensen said he feels RVHS is on the right track to achieve that ultimate goal of having every high-school student graduate. At the state level, the goal is to have 90 percent of all students graduate by 2020.

To learn more about efforts at the state level, visit the MDE Web site at education.mn.gov. Information regarding the efforts at RVHS can be found on its Web site at www.redwoodareaschools.com.