New numbers from the Kansas State Department of Education show the Lawrence school district improved its graduation rate in 2012, with gains showing up in the overall student population and among low-income and minority students.
Those numbers show that 88.4 percent of the students who entered high school in the 2007-08 school year graduated on time in 2012. That was an increase from the 82.8 percent "four-year cohort graduation rate" posted the year before.
The Lawrence rate was also higher than the statewide average of 84.9 percent.
"We are very, very proud of our gains in that area," Superintendent Rick Doll said. "The overall rate is increasing. And the other thing that's good is the gaps are decreasing. The gap between the all-students category and our students of color, for example, has decreased significantly. And the gaps for our students of poverty have decreased as well."
The Lawrence district has relatively small minority populations, which makes comparisons between those groups and the overall population difficult. In the class of 2012, for example, there were only 70 black students to start with four years ago, and only 27 Hispanic students. As a result, a change of one student in either direction shows up as more than a full percentage point change.
But among students who qualify for free lunches, the marker that school officials use to identify economically disadvantaged students, there was a noticeable increase in the graduation rate and a decrease in the gap between them and the all-student population.
Among male students in that group, the graduation gap shrank 14 percent, from 21.9 percentage points in 2011 to 18.7 percentage points this year. Among females in that group, the gap shrank 33 percent.
Across the board, however, there is a noticeable gap between male and female students of all ethnic and income backgrounds, a gap that Doll said is common throughout education, but which is also hard to explain.
"We do know that from a male-female standpoint in general," Doll said, "female students tend to exhibit more 'teacher-pleasing behaviors' or 'school-pleasing behaviors.' You hate to say it, but sometimes our young men are not as connected to school as maybe our young females are. We are concerned about that. And as we celebrate the gains we've made overall, we continue to see some of those gaps that we're still concerned about."
The state of Kansas reports graduation rates to the U.S. Department of Education where they are used, in part, to measure states' compliance with provisions of the No Child Left Behind law.
Both state and federal officials caution, however, that students counted as not graduating on time does should not be considered "dropouts." Several reasons can account for a student being counted as not graduating, such as students who transfer to nonaccredited schools, or students who leave the district but do not report back that they have enrolled in another district.
Doll noted that in Kansas home schools are generally not accredited by the state. The same is true for many private and parochial schools, even though the education students receive in those environments may be every bit as good as what they receive in state-accredited schools.