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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Washington high school seniors set graduation rate records this year

Medical Lake Seniors Riley Petek, left and Anthony Griffey ride on the roof of 2017 graduate Kyle Thompson’s Subaru as they pass through a maze of images of their classmates during an event honoring Medical Lake High School’s senior class in this May 2020 photo. Medical Lake was one of three local high schools with graduation rates of nearly 98% this year, part of a record-breaking effort by Washington high school students.  (TYLER TJOMSLAND)
Medical Lake Seniors Riley Petek, left and Anthony Griffey ride on the roof of 2017 graduate Kyle Thompson’s Subaru as they pass through a maze of images of their classmates during an event honoring Medical Lake High School’s senior class in this May 2020 photo. Medical Lake was one of three local high schools with graduation rates of nearly 98% this year, part of a record-breaking effort by Washington high school students. (TYLER TJOMSLAND)

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic but partly because of it, Washington’s high school seniors graduated at record rates last spring.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction reported this week the 4-year graduation rate reached 82.9% .

That’s an all-time high, and 2 percentage points higher the previous record.

“The Class of 2020 completed their senior year in a manner unlike all of the graduating classes before them,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal. “I’m proud of the way our educators, school staff, and families came together to support our seniors in reaching the finish line despite the challenges they faced.”

Every student group saw an increase in their 4-year graduation rate compared to 2019. Native American students and English learners saw the largest gains, with their graduation rates rising by 8.1 and 6 percentage points, respectively.

The numbers are even more impressive in Eastern Washington. Seniors at West Valley, Medical Lake and Lakeside all graduated at a rate of nearly 98% .

In Spokane County, North Central led the way at 95.3%, just ahead of Mt. Spokane (94.9%), Freeman (94.5%) and Mead (94.1%).

Also above 90% were Ferris (93.1%), Deer Park (92.6%), Central Valley (92.5%), Cheney (92%) and Lewis and Clark (90.8%).

Other local schools finishing above the state average were University (88.8%), Rogers (88.6%), Riverside (87.3%) and Shadle Park (86.3%).

The largest district in the area, Spokane Public Schools, posted a record overall graduation rate of 89.2% even as students retreated to distance learning for the last three months of the school year.

“That was something to celebrate,” Superintendent Adam Swinyard said during a recent school board meeting. “One of the key focuses was doing everything to support school seniors getting to the finish line and finishing strong.”

Graduation rates rose partly because of relaxed standards put in place during the pandemic and the quick move to distance learning.

To help push students to graduate, the Washington State Board of Education created an emergency credit waiver program to support students who had been on track to graduate on time when the pandemic first closed schools last spring.

On the other hand, the class of 2020 was the first group required to meet the new “graduation pathway” requirement by showing that they were ready to take the next steps after high school .

OSPI and State Board of Education are analyzing how the credit waivers and graduation pathway programs impacted graduation rates. They hope to have that data available next month.

“I’m pleased to see that gaps are closing, and I believe it’s important to celebrate that progress,” Reykdal said. “However, the work can’t slow down. We will continue our focus on closing gaps and ensuring all of our students have the supports they need for graduation and beyond.”

Among the state’s largest districts, only Everett (95.7%), Tacoma (89.9%) and Vancouver (89.4%) had graduation rates higher than Spokane’s.

The state’s largest district, Seattle Public Schools, had a graduation rate of 85.8%.

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