A state report released Thursday brands West Valley School District as the worst in Washington for on-time graduation rates.
But district officials say the data is wildly misleading.
Only 21.6 percent of West Valley’s class of 2004 graduated within four years of starting high school, according to data from the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The results follow the release of the scores for the Washington Assessment of Student Learning – commonly called the WASL – in which West Valley’s scores for 10th-grade students dropped significantly.
Neither set of data is an accurate reflection of the progress and success of West Valley students, district officials said. The Deer Park School District had similar complaints with its unexpectedly low rating of 64 percent on-time graduation rate.
In West Valley, more than half the students in the class of 2004 were enrolled in one of two alternative schools that are within the district but serve students from throughout the region who are not making it traditional high schools.
“It’s been pretty typical for us to have a very low rate because we are taking those kids that have started in other districts, maybe started in a couple of other schools, and they are definitely not on the four-year track,” said West Valley Superintendent Polly Crowley.
Contract-Based Education had an on-time graduation rate of just 2 percent, whereas West Valley High School, which is attended by most students who live within the district, boasted an 88 percent on-time graduation rate.
Deer Park Superintendent Mick Miller said his jaw dropped when he saw the on-time graduation rate. He later determined that his staff had incorrectly entered information on the reporting forms. Students who transferred to other districts were wrongly recorded as dropouts, Miller said.
Miller, who has challenged the state data, estimates that his district has an actual on-time graduation rate around 75 percent.
Statewide, about 70 percent of students in the class of 2004 graduated within four years, an improvement of about 4 percentage points over the previous year. Those numbers reflect both an improvement in student retention and improvements in record-keeping, said Kim Schmanke, a spokeswoman for the state school superintendent’s office.
“Less kids are being lost through paperwork,” Schmanke said.
Of the 315,514 students in Washington high schools in 2003-2004, 5.8 percent dropped out of all grades. The dropout rate was highest among American Indian (12 percent), Hispanic (10.2 percent), and black students (9.7 percent), and lowest among Asian/Pacific Islander (3.7 percent) and white students (5 percent).
Among the nine easternmost counties of Eastern Washington, only Asotin exceeded the statewide dropout rate, at 6.8 percent. In Spokane County, the dropout rate was 4.5 percent.
Most of the best scores were in very small districts. The 900-student Freeman School District, south of Spokane county, was one of only a handful of districts across the state with a 100 percent on-time graduation rate.
Larger, racially diverse districts continue to be among those with the lowest graduation rates.
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