By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver
(Castle Rock, CO) Douglas County high school graduation rates have gradually declined since 2019, bucking a statewide trend showing the percentage of students earning a diploma in four years at its highest level since the pandemic.
Despite the drop from around 93% to 89.5%, DougCo continues to have the second-highest graduation rate of the state's four largest districts serving a combined total of 286,000 students. Only Cherry Creek's graduation rate was higher in 2022 at 91%.
Some gaps between marginalized students widened, especially among economically disadvantaged ones. Only 63% of those students eligible for free and reduced lunch earned their 4-year diploma, a difference of 25 points from the districtwide total.
The gap for students of color also widened. These students comprise 30% of the district's total. The other 70% are White.
The good news is that the district's graduation rate for students on an individualized education plan (IEP) rebounded from 2019 levels, closing the gap to 12.5 percentage points.
Despite the high percentage of students graduating in the district, it remains just under one in four students with a disability, and slightly more than one in three poor students will graduate in four years.
Dropout rates increase
DougCo also saw its dropout rate increase from .6% to .9%. While small, the increase is the first in four years and reflects a similar trend across Colorado.
Dropout statistics include 7-12th graders who disenroll from schools. The state average went from 1.1% in 2021 to 1.3% in 2022.
According to Chalkbeat, the higher dropout rate is a "sign that schools are still struggling to engage students and still dealing with the fallout from pandemic-era schooling."
Economically disadvantaged students in DougCo saw the highest increase in dropout rates, followed by students of color.
DougCo sees drop in enrollment
According to Fall enrollment numbers, DougCo schools serve 1,000 fewer students than in 2021, a drop of 1.6%.
The district now has around 5,000 fewer students than in 2019, the year before the pandemic began. It's unclear if the district must consider closing schools like Denver Public Schools and Jefferson County.
Pockets of DougCo are facing tremendous population growth, like in Crystal Valley, The Canyons, and Sterling Ranch. However, areas like Highlands Ranch now have fewer students than a decade ago.
Experts credit the state's total public school enrollment decline to a drop in birth rates and a lack of affordable housing. Enrollment dropped in more than half of Colorado's school districts.
Fewer students can mean less money for DougCo schools since the state pays districts based on the number of students they enroll, among other factors.
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