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OPS, Nebraska high school graduation rates drop amid coronavirus pandemic

OPS, Nebraska high school graduation rates drop amid coronavirus pandemic

Springville Elementary was one of the schools that welcomed students back for the first time this semester after starting the year with remote learning.

The Omaha Public Schools’ graduation rate fell last school year amid the COVID-19 chaos that disrupted learning in the spring and summer.

The statewide rate dipped, too, but not as much.

The declines offer the first statistical glimpse of the academic price the pandemic is exacting on Nebraska kids.

Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt said he’s not surprised to see the statewide decline.

OPS’s graduation rate declined more than 3 percentage points, dropping from 76.7% to 73.5%.

Although graduation rates can ebb and flow year to year, the drop is the biggest one-year decline since at least 2003.

Statewide, the rate dipped about 1 point, from 88.4% to 87.5%.

Graduation rates in select Nebraska school districts

The Nebraska Department of Education on Thursday released four-year graduation rates for districts statewide. Here are the rates for select districts.

District 2020 2019
Omaha 73.46% 76.68%
Lincoln 80.8% 81.83%
Millard 91.91% 92.76%
Papio La Vista 95.35% 94.81%
Elkhorn 95.1% 96.94%
Bellevue 91.94% 92.41%
Gretna 97.8% 97.99%
Westside 90% 89.21%
Bennington 95.95% 93.75%
Springfield Platteview 98.15% 94.57%
DC West 93.24% 98.53%
Ralston 84.41%

That’s the lowest graduation rate in a decade.

But Blomstedt said the pandemic’s impact on the current senior class, which will graduate next spring, could be even more substantial.

“This year’s seniors are all the more impacted because they had impacts on their junior year, and then they’re going to have their whole senior year impacted,” he said.

Nebraska schools closed abruptly in March because of the pandemic, and districts finished the year in remote learning with mixed success. Summer school in most districts was canceled, pared down or handled remotely.

The end of the school year and the summer are the periods when teachers are working to help struggling students complete coursework and satisfy graduation requirements — and those were the months when schools were in flux.

School buildings reopened to students this fall, but some students are still learning remotely or in hybrid approaches that have them alternating days in school. Some students have been forced to periodically spend weeks in quarantine learning remotely.

There could be long-term implications if the gaps in students’ learning are compounded over time, Blomstedt said.

In addition to the need for efforts aimed at catching up kids, there could be greater demand for adult education programs, such as GED programs, to serve students who fall through the cracks, he said.

Blomstedt said a number of factors beyond the challenges of remote learning could have contributed to the declines, including kids leaving school last spring and taking jobs in the workforce. He said that with schools postponing or canceling graduation ceremonies, students lost a motivating factor to stay in school and graduate.

Asked about the OPS dip, district officials issued the following statement:

“We know the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic have affected students and families in many ways. Whether in a pandemic or normal time, we provide every support we can to ensure students are prepared for graduation and life beyond their time in Omaha Public Schools.“

World-Herald staff writer Emily Nitcher contributed to this report.

Some notable stories from The World-Herald in 2020

As managing editor, I don't report or write stories anymore. But each day, I get a close look at great work by the World-Herald's reporters, photographers and other staffers. Here are a few stories that stood out for me this year. — Paul Goodsell

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Joe covers education for The World-Herald, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school. Phone: 402-444-1077.

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