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Iowa has the nation’s highest overall graduation rate again, but some students are still left behind


Photo via the Iowa Department of Education

Iowa had the highest overall high school graduation rate in the country in 2016, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). Last year’s graduation rate was 91.3 percent, much higher than the national average of 84.1 percent. The statistics track the on-time graduation rates of students who have attended high schools for four years.

“We’re proud that Iowa continues to be the national leader in high school graduation rates,” Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise said in a press release.

But other graduation statistics published by the DOE show that the success of Iowa schools isn’t uniformly shared by all the state’s students. The graduation rate for lower-income students — defined as students who qualify for free or reduced lunches — was only 83.9 percent, which gives Iowa the rank of seventh in the nation in that category. Iowa’s graduation rate for special needs students was even lower, 69.5 percent. Eighteen states had higher rates among special needs students.

The state’s statistics are reflected at the local district level.

The Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) had the highest overall graduation rates last year among the three large local school districts, 93.9 percent. But the rate for lower-income students was 86.9 percent, and ICCSD had the lowest graduation rate of the three for special needs students, 15.4 percent. (Only 4 of the district’s 26 special needs students who had been attending high school for four years graduated.)

The Linn-Mar Community School District had an overall graduation rate in 2016 of 92.8 percent. Linn-Mar’s lower-income students had a 83.9 percent graduation rate, and the rate for special needs students was 62.5 percent.

The Cedar Rapids Community School District had the lowest overall graduation rate of the three districts with 83.9 percent, as well as the lowest graduation rate for lower-income students, 71.7 percent. But the district also had the highest graduation rate for special needs students, 63.9 percent.

Iowa has had the highest overall graduation rate in the nation every year since 2011, when the DOE started requiring states to report graduation data in the current standardized format.


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