Graduation Rates Up for All Students

A Message from Superintendent Greg Baker

Dear Families and Community,

I wanted to take a moment to celebrate some exciting information about our district’s graduation rates that we shared with our school board earlier this week.

Here are a few highlights from our report, which looks at trends in graduation rates from 2010 to 2016:

  • Bellingham students’ overall five-year graduation rate increased from 79% in 2010 to 87% in 2016.  Four-year graduation rates increased from 75% in 2010 to 83% in 2016.
  • While we examine overall graduation rates, we also look closely at special subgroups of students, including English language learners (ELL), Hispanic, eligible for free/reduced priced meals and receiving special education services. In all four subgroups, graduation rates for 2016 increased in year-over-year comparisons. Furthermore, we’ve seen dramatic increases for all four subgroups since 2011. Gaps in graduation rates have decreased between white and Hispanic students; in 2011, there was an 18% gap and by 2016, the gap had fallen to 5% (see graph below).

Graph shows increase in graduation rates

  • Since that time, our dropout rates have fallen significantly. The dropout rate for English language learners has decreased from 27% to 10%. For Hispanics, dropout rates have fallen from 33% to 10%, and five-year graduation rates are up a full 20% (from 63% in 2011 to 83% in 2016). Low income student dropout rates have fallen from 26% to 17% over this time period, and for students with IEPs the rate has fallen from 27% to 21%, with many students who are on an IEP continuing beyond a fifth year.

These are noteworthy trends, and this is a great opportunity to acknowledge our school board, staff, community and the power of our strategic plan, The Bellingham Promise, which articulates our collective commitment to all children in Bellingham.

As with any data set, it is challenging to pinpoint the exact cause; we know The Promise is a strong influence in all that we do. Our families, students, staff and community have helped us move in the right direction through developing and embracing The Promise and its vision, mission, values and key strategies. The Promise guides our work and decisions around important investments and initiatives to help us improve graduation rates, including:

  • Student, Family and Community Engagement: Our Family Engagement Team, under Isabel Meaker’s leadership, works hard to connect with and support our Hispanic families (as well as other ethnicities) with our schools by providing home visits, responding to family needs for basic survival support (beds, shoes, meals, etc.) and supporting connections with schools by providing interpreter services that reduce language barriers and improve family engagement.
  • Great Teaching with Strong Support: We made important investments and additions to our ELL teaching model seven years ago to better meet the needs of our ELL students and families. We have also increased the number of staff for special education, counselors and deans to support high quality instruction and help identify at risk students to help them reach graduation and create high school and beyond plans. Our high school success coordinators have also contributed to this cause.
  • One Schoolhouse Approach: Our strong commitment to equity has allowed us to help ALL students and ALL schools within our district, including the funding gaps we’ve closed with our Project Free Education initiative and our partnership with the Bellingham Public Schools Foundation.

Thank you again for everything you do to support our students to reach graduation – AND we all know it’s ongoing work and there is always more to be done!

And special thanks to deputy superintendent Dr. Mike Copland and director of research and assessment Brian Rick who presented this board report on Wednesday. For you policy fans out there: the report was Ends 2.1 Part 2 and you can click here to learn more about “ends.”

I hope you have a great weekend,

Greg Baker


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