High School Extended Graduation Rates: It’s About More Than Just A Diploma and Spokane Continues to Outperform

by Brian Kennedy and Dr. Patrick Jones

$16,337. That is the difference between the 2018 median earnings of an individual without a high school diploma and the median earnings of all individuals in the United States according the U.S. Census. That difference extrapolated across the entire working years (ages 18 to 65) would account for a lifetime difference in earnings of nearly $800,000.

Different outcomes are not just in economics either. Educational attainment has been linked to health outcomes as well. A study looking at the life expectancy of the OECD nations (largely made of North American and European nations) states that “people with the highest level of education live around six years longer than people with the lowest level of education.”

Given how impactful a high school diploma is on an individual’s life, we should take it as a point of pride that not only has been steadily increasing here, but Spokane County’s graduation rates are continually outperforming the state for both on-time and extended (those graduating within five years) graduation rates. The idea of an extended graduation is to include those students who may need an extra year to finish out all high school requirements. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) states that while the 4-year cohort will still be the baseline, the extended or 5-year cohort measure is more inclusive, and “the outcomes for more student groups will be included in determining which schools need support.” Given this position by our state’s public education agency, indicator 3.3.4 displays the 5-year extended graduation rate.

By the 2018-2019 school year, Spokane County was sitting at an extended graduation rate of 85.5%, 5.1 percentage points higher than the start of the trend in 2010-2011. While the state rate has been growing as well, the County is still 1.7 percentage points higher than the state’s.

Driving the much of the improvement has been the County’s largest district, Spokane School District. In 2010-2011, the extended graduation rate in the Spokane School District was just 75.4%. In less than a decade, the district rate has improved by 14.6 percentage points to where it sits now, at 90%.

However, it’s not just Spokane School District that is doing well. A majority of the school districts are outperforming the state, from Central Valley at 89.7% to Cheney at 87.7%. In fact, Nine Mile Falls School District, with an extended graduation rate of 96.8%, ranked number one in the state for the 2018-2019 school year, with Deer Park sitting at fourth. Across all 193 school districts across the state, where data are available, Spokane County has three in the top 25 (Mead ranking 24th).

These rates are truly something to be proud of in our community; nonetheless, it is important to look to where there is room for improvement. All students face the challenges of completing homework and passing tests, but there are certain socioeconomic groups that face obstacles outside the classroom, affecting their ability to succeed within the classroom. Bigger concerns of wondering where you might be sleeping tonight, when you might be eating next, or struggles with language barriers can all impact student performance. Indicator 3.3.5 tracks the extended graduation rate for low income and homeless students, while indicator 3.3.6 tracks the rates for the non-white population to show where some of these disparities can arise.

In 2018-2019, low-income students in the County had a five-year graduation rate of 78.1%. While this is 2.1 percentage points higher than their state counterparts, low-income students’ rate is 7.4 percentage points lower than the overall rate. Even worse off are homeless students, as defined by the McKinney-Vento law. There are about 3,000 countywide, and their five-year graduation rate is 67.8%. This is 8.1 percentage points higher than the state but over 17 percentage points lower than the overall County rate.

While not nearly as marked as for low-income and homeless students, there are clear differences when extended graduation rates for racial and ethnic minorities and the overall rate. Non-white students in Spokane County are graduating a rate nearly 10 percentage points higher than the state average, sitting at 82.8% in 2018-2019. However, non-whites are falling behind slightly their non-white counterparts here, who have a rate of 86.3%, by 3.5 percentage points. The positive note here is that these struggles are not near as pronounced as they are throughout the rest of the state where a difference of 12.3 percentage points exists between these two groups. So while there is room for improvement, the County’s districts and their students are outperforming the state yet again.

Graduating high school isn’t just about getting a diploma. There are long-term impacts to the economic and social well-being of our residents. Moreover, as trends go in Spokane County, the extended graduation rate is one our community can celebrate. While there is always room for improvement, consistently outperforming the state, showing continued improvement, and having the top ranked school district is the state is something we should be proud of.