A recent report from the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) shows a large dip in the graduation rate for Englewood’s high schools, which was 54% for the 2020-201 school year, down from 69.3% the year before.
But that data tells just a sliver of the district’s story, its leaders said.
“Any industry or society wants to put some parameters around graduation,” said Duane Tucker, president of the Englewood Schools Board of Education. “There’s lots of other factors.”
With two high schools, Englewood is a smaller district than others in the metro area, with just over 800 students between its two high schools. Because of this, a handful of students can affect its statistics.
Much of the skew has to do with Englewood’s alternative school, Colorado’s Finest High School of Choice, which has a student population of about 252. Between 70% and 80% of its students are from districts across the metro area and it’s usual for many to graduate past the usual four-year timeline. If a student graduates past the four-year mark, that counts against the graduation rate, which measures students who graduate within the standard four-year time frame.
“The students still graduated, they just needed extended time for a variety of reasons,” said Diana Zakhem, director of secondary support for Englewood Schools. “Many of them come to us off-track to graduate, they’re over-aged, under credit.”
Colorado’s Finest’s graduation rate for students who completed in four years was 21% this school year, down from 41% last year. The district’s traditional high school, Englewood High School, saw a marginal dip from 82.7% for school year 2019-2020 to 81.5% this past year, still putting the school just below the state average.
Zakhem said because both schools’ rates are clumped together, the numbers are not as accurate of a reflection.
“Sometimes you can look at that graduation rate … but that’s actually not the full picture,” she said, adding that it is hard to compare the two high schools, which offer different approaches for different students.
While Englewood High School is more traditional, Colorado’s Finest focuses on more personalized and relationship-based learning with students who are grouped into a cohort and guided by a main teacher. The focus is less on getting students graduated within the traditional four-year timelines and more on making sure they get across the finish line.
“What they do at the school is extraordinary,” she said.
Zakhem pointed to the slew of improvements the district’s alternative high school has seen this year. Still enrollment rates, which reflect students who are still in school, increased from 21.9% in 2019-2020 to 49.5% this past year, the highest in 15 years.
“We didn’t lose them, they’re still here,” Zakhem said.
And dropout rates are continuing to decline, which were at 7.1% this past year.
“(Finest has) been on this extraordinary downward trajectory for the past eight years,” she said of the dropout rate.
But challenges hindered graduation rates, like the COVID-19 pandemic, which had an outsized role in affecting Englewood and the rest of the state.
“I don’t know if there’s a single school out there that can say they haven’t been impacted,” Zakhem said.
Colorado saw a slight drop in four-year graduation rates for the first time in 10 years, according to the CDE report, with a 0.2% decrease from the 2019-2020 school year.
“We know how tough it was for everyone last school year due to the challenges brought on by the pandemic, with schools going to remote learning and others offering hybrid models,” said Katy Anthes, Colorado’s education commissioner, in a statement.
For Tucker, the board president, Englewood’s alternative high school presents a crucial opportunity for students who were not able to stay in a traditional four-year school.
“Without the model, a lot of kids would be in the dropout (rate),” Tucker said. “This board has always been supportive of funding an alternative high school.”
He echoed the sentiments of Zakhem and said, “It’s hard to assess the educational experience in just a couple of numbers.”
“Graduation rates are important,” he said. “We are constantly looking at that. But we know that in Englewood we have a lot of other dynamics. We have to meet those students where they’re at.”