Washington’s grad rate is low compared with other states — here’s why that may be

Washington has one of the lowest on-time graduation rates among all 50 states and Washington D.C., but state education officials aren’t worried about the ranking.

While Washington has one of the lowest on-time graduation rates in the nation — as reported Monday by the National Center for Education Statistics — state officials say that’s not for the reasons you might think.

Washington’s graduation rate for the class of 2016 was 79.7 percent, putting the state at No. 40 out of 50 states and Washington D.C. Iowa was No. 1, with 91.3 percent of its students graduating within four years, followed by New Jersey, at 90.1 percent. Washington D.C. had the lowest rate, with 69.2 percent.

So what does Washington’s top schools official have to say?

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Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal wants Washington’s rate to be higher. But he adds that he doesn’t put a lot of stock into the rankings, for a variety of reasons.

To start, he said, each state has its own graduation requirements, and each state tracks its students differently. And with the rankings, a tenth of a percentage point can separate one state’s rate from another.

Compare Washington with Idaho and Michigan, for example. The three states all had the same graduation rate: 79.7 percent. But their requirements are different. Washington students in the class of 2016 had to take 20 academic credits and pass an exit exam to graduate. Idaho students had to complete 29 credits and a senior project, but not an exit exam. Michigan students had to pass 18 credits but didn’t have to take an exit exam.

Washington has a stricter policy than other states on tracking students who leave one district and say they are enrolling in another. While some states might consider a student a transfer regardless of if they re-enroll or not, Washington tracks if they actually enrolled. If they didn’t, they’re labeled a drop out.

But Washington state can’t track students who leave the state, and graduate elsewhere.

“When someone leaves our state, it pretty much counts as a drop out,” Reykdal said.

The final reason Washington is so low in the rankings, Reykdal…

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