Graduation rates declined

It’s not surprising that Indiana high school graduation rates declined in 2021. It’s probably a little surprising that they didn’t decline more than they did.

According to the Indiana Department of Education, the graduation rate for public and charter schools was 86.69%. That’s down one percentage point from the 2020 rate.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought massive disruption to schooling in 2020-21. Some high school seniors no doubt adapted well to online or hybrid classes, but others didn’t. We heard stories of students who gave up on school, sometimes to work or care for siblings. An analysis by the state DOE found 2020-21 disruptions had an academic impact ranging from moderate to significant for Hoosier students. You’d expect the graduation rate to drop.

Unfortunately, the decline was larger for students of color and students from low-income families. At least anecdotally, those students were more likely to experience school closures, and their families were more likely to be affected by COVID-19.

Graduation rate declines from 2020 to 2021 included:

  • Black students, 79.77% to 77.05%.
  • Hispanic students, 85.37% to 82.66%.
  • Students who qualified for free or reduced-price meals, 86.83% to 82.84%.
  • English learners, 86.55% to 82.8%.
  • Students in special education, 77.06% to 74.52%.

Rates also declined for white and Asian students, but by less than a percentage point. For private schools, the graduation rate fell from 91.47% to 90.13%.

A Department of Education summary says 2021 graduation rates were 89.1% for traditional public schools and 48.18% for charter schools. The figure for charter schools is misleading, however. Many charter high schools are “adult” or “credit recovery” schools, where, by definition, most students won’t graduate on time.

There’s also a lot of variation among schools and school corporations. You can download “2021 State Graduation Rate Data” from the state data page to see results for local schools.

If there’s a bright spot in the data, it’s that the share of students who graduated without a waiver from having to pass state graduation exams increased – from 76.73% in 2019 to 78.78% in 2021. There were no waivers in 2020 because the state dropped end-of-year exams as the pandemic began.

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