Did graduation rates tumble during COVID? Yes, but some schools set records

Two states represent the graduation rate roller-coaster K-12 schools have been riding throughout the pandemic.

The 2021 graduate rate set a record at Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland. Across the country in Nevada, Washoe County Schools‘ graduation rate slipped to 82% in 2021 from 85% in 2020 after climbing sharply from 62% a decade ago.

The good news is that graduation rates in most states haven’t completely tanked after three school years disrupted by the pandemic. But the two districts above represent the roller-coaster K-12 schools have been riding through the pandemic. Anne Arundel County’s graduation rate surpassed 90% for the first time in 2021—a slight increase from 2020. Six student groups posted the highest rates ever, the district reported.

The graduation gap between Anne Arundel’s African-American and white students has closed by 33%, to 5.52 points, since 2011. In Washoe County, achievement gaps are also narrowing but significant disparities remain between white students and their classmates, particularly among those earning advanced diplomas, the district said.

At the state level, Mississippi reported its highest-ever graduation rate, 88.4%, and lowest drop-out rate, 8.5%, in 2021. Those rates were 74.5% and 13.9% in 2014, the state reported.

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But Minnesota’s slight decline in graduation rates appears to reflect trends seen in many states. The rate slipped to 83.3% in 2021 after peaking at 83.8% the year before. The rate had been climbing from just over 80% in 2013. New Jersey’s rate also slid from 91% in 2019 to 90.6% in 2021, according to NJ.com, which also reported that 21 of 26 states have reported graduation rate decreases so far this year.

An urban turnaround

The graduation rate in Yonkers Public Schools, a large urban district bordering New York City, rose above the state average during COVID and is holding steady.

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Yonkers Public Schools reached a 91% graduation rate in the turbulent 2020-2021 school year, the highest of any of New York’s “Big 5″ districts. New York state’s graduation rate for 2020-21 was 88%. Yonkers administrators said the graduation rate was strong across race, gender and other subgroups, including 91% of Latino students and 87% of Black students.

In 2020, the graduation rate hit just over 90%, Yonkers’ highest point in decades, administrators said. In the last two years, the district’s dropout rate also improved, falling from 3.4% to 2%. “The 2017 cohort of graduates and their families personified grit and persistence to remain focused on their diploma while coping with almost a year and a half of COVID-19,” Superintendent Edwin M. Quezada said. “Most significant for an urban school district is keeping our students in school as we have in Yonkers.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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