COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — Graduation rates in the Lakeland Joint School District in 2020 gave the entire district many reasons to be proud.
The overall graduation rate of the three Lakeland secondary schools was 96.7%. Lakeland High boasted a 97.5% graduation rate, Timberlake Senior High was at 97.2% and Mountain View Alternative High School came in at 87%.
"We were super proud of Mountain View," Lakeland Assistant Superintendent Lisa Sexton said Wednesday. "Not only did they have the highest alternative graduation in the state, but they beat the state average for all schools."
In 2020, Idaho's average high school graduation rate was 82%, even when the COVID-19 pandemic closed public schools for several months. as reported by our news partner the Coeur d'Alene Press.
"Our teachers busted their hinnies to make sure the kids got the work done and did what they needed to do to get that diploma at all three of our high schools," Sexton said.
One year later, the rates in Lakeland slid, but not significantly.
In 2021, the overall graduation rate was 93.1%. Lakeland High reported 95.8%, Timberlake 96.1% and Mountain View was 76.5%.
Sexton said the biggest hurdle for Lakeland's secondary schools that continues to be problematic this year is attendance. Lakeland can't implement its traditional attendance policy because kids can't be coming to school if they're not feeling well.
Sexton said several students have missed at least 50 days. That's more than a full quarter of instruction.
"It's easy to miss a lot of school because there aren’t any consequences, but when you get really far behind, it's hard to recover those credits," she said. "What we have found is with some of our kids, home school is really hard."
According to Idaho Education News, Idaho's 2021 high school graduation rate fell to 80.1%, a drop from 2020 when it was 82.1%.
On Tuesday, state superintendent Sherri Ybarra connected Idaho’s 2021 decrease to COVID-19.
"The traditional four-year graduation rate for the Class of 2021 shows the impacts of the pandemic, not surprising considering COVID-19 disrupted both the junior and senior years for these students,” Ybarra said in a statement Tuesday.
Sexton said the old adage "miss school, miss out" is true.
"Our attendance policy is really hurting us, but there's nothing we can do about it," she said. "It will be interesting to see at the end of this year how kids are doing with those really large numbers of absences."
Scott Maben, director of communications for the Coeur d'Alene School District, said that Coeur d'Alene's graduation rates have always been well above state average.
The district average graduation rate for the Class of 2021 was 90%. In 2019, it was 91.5% districtwide.
“That’s not a huge fluctuation,” Maben said.
Looking back over a five-year period, the graduation rates have increased throughout the district.
Maben said one thing to remember is every group of students is different.
Venture High School, an alternative school that serves students at risk of not graduating at some point during their school years, had an increase from a graduation rate of 50.80% in 2017 to 66.70% in 2021.
“That’s two-thirds of the students at Venture graduate,” Maben said. “That’s a huge success story.”
Coeur d’Alene High School had an increase of 3.3% in the past five years to a graduation rate of 92% in 2021. Lake City High School increased by 0.6% to a rate of 91.60%.
Overall, the district increased its graduation rate by 3.5% from 2017 to 2021.
The Post Falls School District is also performing well above the statewide average, said Superintendent Dena Naccarato, Wednesday.
"Post Falls High School's graduation rate for 2020 was 92.5% and for 2021 was 92.8%," Naccarato said. "New Vision Alternative High School's graduation rate was 69.8% for both 2020 and 2021, which is outstanding considering students who enter New Vision are at least one year behind in credits."
The district hopes that as they continue with in-person instruction five days a week, they will continue to see the graduation rate rise, Naccarato said.
The district is seeing a much higher absenteeism rate than experienced pre-pandemic, which does affect student achievement, Naccarato said. School community support has made the difference in helping students achieve despite difficulties caused by the pandemic over the past two years.
The graduation rate is based on a four-year cohort, the percentage of students who start in 9th grade and graduate on time in four years. It doesn't take into account students who continue attending and eventually graduate, even when it takes longer than the average four years.
The Coeur d'Alene Press is a KREM 2 news partner. For more from our news partner, click here.