District's detective work pays off

Deceased, disabled, even students who'd left district were counted as dropouts in completion rate

MIKE YOUDS and SYLVIE PAILLARD Daily News Staff Reporters / Kamloops Daily News
February 3, 2013 01:00 AM

The school board meets in this file photo.

A tried and true path to high school completion, hard work has also paid off for the school district's completion rate, boosted by some extra help from detective work.

District 73's completion rate is looking more impressive - and accurate - as a result of local efforts and a pilot project that took a closer look at how the province calculates the figures.

Trustees will have a look on Tuesday at adjusted calculations showing an overall district graduation rate of 84.1 per cent. That compares with a figure of 77.8 per cent as calculated previously by the Ministry of Education.

For aboriginal students, the adjustment is equally encouraging in a district that has long pursued the goal of improving educational outcomes.

According the ministry calculations in the past, 69 per cent of aboriginal students who entered Grade 8 in Kamloops-Thompson School District went on to graduate. The adjusted figure places that at 75.5 per cent. The provincial rate is 56.4 per cent.

The adjustments reflect a more precise accounting and reveal the extent to which ministry figures were skewed in the past, exaggerating the relative successes of private schools, said Supt. Terry Sullivan.

He noticed something was wrong while reviewing figures for a district on the Island.

"When we looked at this three years ago, it wasn't making any sense to me," Sullivan said. The more resources the district put into addressing the issue, the worse it seemed to get. One year, the rate for all 60 B.C. school districts would go up, the next year it would go down.

"That said to me there's something wrong. There's something systemic about this."

In September 2012, the ministry selected three districts for a closer analysis, including District 73, recognizing that there were difficulties with the data.

The ministry made aggregate calculations that did not account for a variety of factors. Students who left the district before graduation were counted as dropouts. Exchange students were counted as dropouts. Students who were physically or cognitively disabled - who were never expected to graduate - were listed as dropouts. That misrepresentation in the measurement angered their parents, Sullivan noted.

"Twenty-four students counted as dropouts were not even registered in this district," he said. "It's that kind of detective work, really, that we've been doing."

Even deceased students were counted as dropouts. Once these factors were recalculated, the six-year completion rate went up by 6.3 per cent.

Improved rates also reflect a concerted effort by district programs and the First Nations Education Council over the past dozen years, and they indicate greater progress than realized for aboriginal students.

"We've had some pretty spectacular successes when you look at it. When we looked at this 12 years ago, the gap was 32 per cent; now it's eight per cent.

The street school, Four Directions and a KRCC program have contributed, graduating more than 100 students a year.

"Each year we're going into the data, we're doing grunt work and finding out where the students are." That's taken time, he added.

The detective work is expected to show additional benefits as the district takes it another step, he added. As they track down students who have not graduated, they often find completion is attainable with modest effort and credits.

"I think if we do that, we're going to see an improvement over the next decade," Sullivan said. "This year we're 84.1 per cent and I think we can get to 85 per cent by 2014."

The original and adjusted stats show females are graduating at a rate five per cent higher than their male cohorts, which is also shown provincewide.

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