High-school graduation rates fell in at least 20 states after the first full school year disrupted by the pandemic, The Independent reported.
The results were obtained from 26 states and analyzed by Chalkbeat. Some fear that the next several graduating classes could be even more affected.
"It does concern me," said Chris Reykdal, the schools superintendent in Washington State, where the graduation rate fell by about half a point. "I don't ever want to see a decline. We've made such steady progress."
In 2020, when schools closed for the final months of the school year, most states waived outstanding graduation requirements and saw graduation rates increase, Chalkbeat reported. But in 2021, graduation rates fell in 20 of 26 states that have released their data. Comprehensive national data will likely not be available until 2023, according to the analysis.
Those declines were less than a percentage point in some states, like Colorado, Georgia, and Kansas. Illinois, Oregon and North Dakota saw graduation rates drop 2 points, and Indiana, Maine, Nevada South Dakota, and West Virginia saw declines of at least 1 point.
Where rates increased, growth was modest. Florida, for example, had rising graduation rates of more than 2 points each year for a decade but gained just a tenth of a point in 2021, even when state officials waived certain diploma requirements.
"We do have to be concerned that grad rates are down and that some number of kids that earned a diploma, they've learned less than prior years," said Robert Balfanz, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Education and director of a research center focused on high school graduation. "What we're going to have to learn in the future is, How great is the concern?"
Falling graduation rates may be attributed to remote learning. As classes went online, some students fell behind or found assignments confusing. Less interaction with teachers and other students took their toll. Distractions like social media and television are also problematic for some students.
Working part-time and caring for sick relatives during the pandemic were also factors contributing to lower graduation rates, according to the analysis.
Some worry that cumulative effects of the pandemic stand to affect future graduating classes hardest. In both Oregon and Nevada, the share of high school freshmen who finished last school year on track to graduate was about 10 percentage points lower than before the pandemic. This school year, attendance has also been low.
Still, some educators are optimistic last year's dip represents an anomaly, according to The Independent. In Peoria, Illinois, where the graduation rate fell 4 points after climbing steadily for years, Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat thinks the district's expanded "safety net" for struggling students will help.
Every week, a team of educators identifies students with failing grades for extra support. The district has also added ways for working students to earn credits in the evenings or on weekends, and has hired three "navigators" to help students who are in the juvenile justice system to finish school.
"It is not easy," Desmoulin-Kherat said. "It's definitely a marathon, not a sprint."
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