Moorhead High School graduation rate soars, challenges remain


MOORHEAD—The graduation rate for Moorhead High School jumped by 7 percent last year, topping the Minnesota rate by 5.6 percent.

Last year, 88 percent of students at Moorhead High graduated within four years, up from 81 percent in 2016, and better than the 82.7 percent state rate for 2017, according to figures released by the Minnesota Department of Education's report card.

"We had some nice progress and need to continue that," said Missy Eidsness, assistant superintendent of learning and accountability for Moorhead Area Public Schools. Last year 3.9 percent of Moorhead High students in the graduating class dropped out, compared to Minnesota's 4.7-percent dropout rate.

Moorhead High's graduation rate last year was the highest in the past five years, and marked a turnaround from the declines in the rate posted since 2014, when 86 percent of students graduated. The 2016 graduation rate was 80 percent.

Moorhead school officials attribute the increase to several factors, including stepped-up efforts to systematically report their numbers, resulting in fewer "unknowns" that don't count toward the graduation rate.

Also, Eidsness said, officials have been working hard in recent years to provide more academic support for students and parents, and to provide more "pathways" for students to reach their graduation requirements.

Over the past four or five years, the English learners population at Moorhead Area Public Schools has increased, which presents challenges in the classroom. To help those students, some classes are taught by teams—for instance, a social studies teacher paired with an English learning teacher, Eidsness said.

Also, for the past two years, Moorhead schools have regularly hosted open forums for the parents of English learners, who often are hampered by their own non-native language skills.

"That has been a communication hurdle," she said. "We've improved that and we need to keep improving."

Recent forum topics have included graduation requirements, how parents can check their students' grades and resources available to help families in need.

Moorhead schools also have implemented a program to increase student engagement in their studies through a combination of efforts, including advising and support as well as academic tutoring. Participation in the program is growing.

"I think that's a good sign," Eidsness said.

School administrators in Moorhead also are looking at launching new initiatives intended to improve students' academic performance, including more support for students who need help with math, Eidsness said.

The four-year graduation rate for Moorhead Area Public Schools that includes programs outside of Moorhead High School, including the Red River Area Learning Center, an alternative learning program, is significantly lower at 31 percent.

Students at the learning center, who are enrolled from the region, typically do better in a setting with smaller class sizes and other alternatives, including night classes, Eidsness said.

English learners, who have limited English proficiency, also graduate at much lower rates. The four-year graduation rate for English learners in Moorhead was almost 53 percent, up from 41 percent a year earlier but still well below the 65 percent Minnesota rate for English learners.

Also, Moorhead's 63-percent graduation rate among economically disadvantaged students who receive free or reduced lunches lags behind the Minnesota rate of 69 percent, but increased from 61 percent the year before.

On the other hand, Moorhead's four-year graduation rate for special education students, 71 percent, was well above the Minnesota rate, 61 percent, and an improvement of 15 percentage points over the 2016 rate, 56 percent.

Although graduation in four years is the norm and is encouraged, Minnesota schools also allow and encourage students who are unable to complete high school in four years to do so in five, six or even seven years.

"We know that for some students time is a wonderful piece to help them," Eidsness said.

Minnesota's 82.7-percent graduation rate was the highest on record, and continued an upward trend, increasing by more than four percentage points since 2012, according to state figures.

"I am so proud of the work our teachers, administrators and communities have done to increase the number of Minnesota students graduating, and to reduce the likelihood that a child's race or ZIP code will predict their outcome," Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota's education commissioner, said in a statement.