SD64 grad rates see upswing

Indigenous and special needs rates still need work

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Graduation rates are on the rise at the Gulf Islands School District, according to new numbers from the Ministry of Education. 

The six-year completion rate, which measures how many students graduate from high school within six years of starting Grade 8, rose from 74.2 per cent in 2018 to 82.7 per cent in 2019. District administrators attribute the gain to a policy of increased attention on academics while continuing to foster social and emotional growth. 

“We do well most often with the social and emotional stuff. We’re not as dialled in with the intellectual development,” said schools superintendent Scott Benwell. “What we’re not doing well at is the academics in some cases, so let’s bring that up.”

Though the graduation rate is simply a data point, Benwell and SD64 director of instruction Doug Livingston explained that the district has been using those data points to determine the individual learning stories of students. Instead of simply seeing that some students are not meeting the threshold of graduating, they are looking into the daily school lives of the students, realizing where some may be falling behind and putting attention where it is needed to help them graduate. 

“The assumptions of K-12 is that it’s 13 years of input and output. If we’re not getting a year’s worth of output and progress in a year’s worth of input, we’re falling behind,” Benwell said, adding that if students fall behind by a month or so each year, by the time they’re in Grade 12, they’ve missed 1.3 years of education.  

“We cram it all into a four-day week, [so] we have 156 individual opportunities to do a year’s worth of learning,” he added. “That’s a tall order.”

To give more students the chance to graduate, Livingston said they need to start when students are young. Foundational skills, which are taught at the younger levels, are essential to help students understand harder concepts when they reach high school. The district has already put into place frameworks for student successes that give teachers a way to see exactly where students are and to allow them to focus on the ones who are not meeting their grade-level expectations. 

While completion rates for all B.C. resident students have risen, Indigenous student completion rates have stayed relatively stable over the last three years. After a jump from 48 per cent in 2017 to 57 per cent in 2018, the rate remained about the same. A similar pattern for students with special needs occurred, with 52 per cent, 56 per cent and 60 per cent each year. Approximately one in 10 students in the district are considered Indigenous. The same is roughly true for students who have special needs. Benwell was seconded to the Ministry of Education as a field liaison for aboriginal education when he was hired to the district in 2019. In January 2019 the district was also awarded a $5,000 grant to participate in a ministerial Equity in Action project, which was to be used to conduct an equity scan to help Indigenous learners. They have drafted an Indigenous Education Enhancement Agreement that will be voted on at the Jan. 29 board meeting. 

“We need to take a look at the systemic barriers that are inhibiting a similar effect for Indigenous learners,” said Benwell. “From an equity, equality and community health point of view, it’s not okay for one group to move [ahead]. We need to move everyone.”

For more on this story, see the Jan. 29, 2020 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.

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