Graduation rate tops 90 percent
The Marshalltown Community School District achieved a milestone this school year — one it’s been working on for years.
Reported in March, the 2020 graduation rate was 90 percent, the highest in more than a decade. The 2020 graduation rate exceeds the 2019 rate by more than four points and puts the district within striking distance of the state average of 91.6 percent. The 2020 dropout rate also showed positivity. For grades seventh through 12th, the rate was 2.8 percent, the lowest in the past 12 years.
While the district celebrated the achievement, Superintendent Theron Schutte said it has not met the goal.
“We need 100 percent of our students to be ready for a post-secondary education. So we’ve still got some work to do, but we felt really good about where we were at,” he said.
Given the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no question the number will not be as high for 2021, but Schutte does not know yet what the numbers are as they wait for the Iowa Department of Education to release the results next year. However, he expects to see the rate bounce back in following years.
He said the 2020 graduation rate is even more impressive when considering the district’s demographic profile, with many students on free or reduced lunch, two-thirds of students holding down part-time and full-time jobs, and additional stressors such as the tornado, derecho and COVID-19 pandemic.
High school principals in the district gave credit to a plethora of different factors which may have helped achieve the 2020 graduation rate, such as a focus on college and career readiness as well as social emotional learning.
Marshalltown High School Principal Jacque Wyant said nearly 50 percent of the 2020 class were college or career ready. College readiness requires meeting standards such as maintaining a 2.75 grade point average, scoring a three or higher on an advanced placement exam. Career readiness includes criteria such as 90 percent attendance, workplace learning experience and 25 hours of community service.
She said there’s been a shift in focus through the years in what is expected of students after high school. In the past, students were told college is the path after high school.
“The mindset is that you need to have a certain set of skills in order to be in a position in life and in careers to advance,” Wyant said. “Sometimes it’s a four year college, or a technical college, sometimes it’s a master’s degree or a doctorate degree in order to obtain the skills you need in certain professions.”
There’s now a concentrated and concerted effort to expose students to different career paths and skills they want to learn before leaving high school, while also showing where those skills can be earned and where they can take them. The high school’s course guide is organized by career clusters, where students are able to select careers they’re interested in and then be shown classes are available at the high school level and also available through the dual credit program at Marshalltown Community College.
“We are literally drawing the line from point A to B to C to D for them,” Wyant said. “That’s how intense and purposeful we are about connecting your life in high school to your life after high school.”
Marshalltown Learning Academy Principal Eric Goslinga said MLA tries to engage every student in some kind of post high school conversation or transition planning, but also gives credit to the school’s focus on social-emotional learning as a factor driving the graduation rate. He said creating a healthy climate and culture in the building, working hard to make MLA a welcoming place, has benefited students.
He said the biggest barrier in raising the graduation rate going forward will be addressing chronic absenteeism, which he believes is an issue for the entire community affecting the economy and workforce.
“We need everybody in the community to be encouraging all these young kids to be in school when they’re supposed to be in school,” Goslinga said. “I think the next level of excellence will come when we really chip away at that chronic absentee problem.”
Contact Trevor Babcock at 641-753-6611