The Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division has realized one of the highest high school completion rates of any Alberta school jurisdiction in recent history.
Among students who entered Notre Dame High School in September 2010, 90.2 per cent graduated from Grade 12 within three years. Since 2007, only two small Francophone school divisions in the province have achieved higher totals.
For the 2011-12 school year, the local Catholic division had the second highest high school completion rate in Alberta, at 85.6 per cent. Jurisdictional results for 2012-13 across all divisions have not yet been released, but the division’s 90 per cent rate would reflect the highest total in the province since 2009.
“The results affirm that we’re headed in the right direction, and our students, parents, and teachers believe in what we’re doing,” said superintendent Paul Mason.
The division’s dropout rate for 2012-13 was actually up marginally over the year prior, but at 1.5 per cent, was still less than half of the provincial average.
The rate at which students transition into post-secondary studies within six years of entering Grade 10 also fell slightly to 65 per cent of all pupils. The provincial average for 2012-13 was 59.2 per cent.
For the Red Deer Public School Division, numbers trended in the right direction in 2012/13 in terms of high school completion and dropout rates, while the transition rate fell sharply.
The dropout rate fell below provincial averages to 2.8 per cent, while the divisional high school completion rate matched the province at 74.9 per cent. But only half of all students who entered high school in 2007/08 had transitioned to post-secondary studies by 2012, 10 points below the Alberta average. The percentage transitioning had increased every year since 2008.
Public superintendent Piet Langstraat sees the steady uptick in numbers as positives for the division, and he said more than just a school division needs to focus on getting young people into post-secondary programs. He noted that the public division serves a broader demographic than the local Catholic entity, evidenced by provincial socioeconomic analysis from 2012.
“Red Deer Public Schools was on the very bottom end of that scale for the province, which would surprise a lot of people in Red Deer, I think. We think of our community as being quite affluent, but in comparison to other communities, we aren’t,” said Langstraat.
He said the division has prioritized high school completion in recent years, realizing that getting a diploma is not only a high school issue, but something to focus on from the pre-kindergarten level. In the division, the completion rate has risen seven per cent over a period of six years; for the province, there has been a 13-per-cent improvement since 1997.
In 2003, a task force recommended the province strive for a 90 per completion rate for students within four years of their entering high school. The most recent figures show 79.6 per cent of students earn their diploma given an extra year. Given an extra two, the number rises to 81.7 per cent.
Langstraat said the significant gains in the number of students earning their diplomas has not in any way been a case of standards being diminished or grade inflation, but moreso the result of a concerted effort by schools and communities and an understanding that a high school diploma should be regarded as the minimum credential required for a successful future.
“I think most people would be quite astounded at how difficult it is to get a high school diploma in Alberta. That’s probably why we only sit at about the 75 per cent level. There are very high standards in Alberta,” he said.