Home Education Highline Grad Rate Rocketed In 10 Years – Why Didn’t Academics Follow?

Highline Grad Rate Rocketed In 10 Years – Why Didn’t Academics Follow?

by Stuart Jenner

The most prominent number the Highline School District communicates is the graduation rate. District mailings consistently portray growth or high numbers, as shown in this example from fall 2022:

What is behind these numbers? Many details show that, when examined, they are not “peaches and cream.” Let’s take a closer look at the breakdown and trends in the graduation rate percentages. The bottom line:

  • There’s considerable variation in schools: 
    • The range for the four comprehensive schools is a high of 89.5% at Mt.Rainier and a low of 78.7% a Highline.
  • The rate drops noticeably when students from the Open Doors re-engagement program are included. The number is 83.4% without Open Doors, but it dropped to 78.1% with Open Doors in 2022
  • Girls, at 87% are graduating at a significantly higher rate than boys, at 81%

We must use care in looking at specific years. The last third of the 2019-2020 year and the entire 2020-21 school year were significantly impacted by Covid. Some classes were pass/fail. There are reports that other classes had lower grading standards for some of the time, so while the numbers for those years are included in the tables below, the ones I’d look at most closely are 2018-19 and 2021-22.

There are two sources for data. One is from the URL in the flyer: highlineschools.org/report. From there, we can go to the grad data page. The second source for grad rate data is the state of Washington’s report card for K12 education. Here is a link to the page on the Highline School District overview, as shown in this screenshot:


The overall graduation rate for the class of 2022 is listed as 83.5%. Another 7.9% are listed as continuing, meaning that if they graduate, the five or six-year graduation rate for the class of 2023 will be increased. The third percentage listed is dropouts, at 7.9%.

A Closer Look at the Numbers

There are many ways to subdivide the numbers. They include: school, gender, ethnicity, and programs, such as ELL, Special Education, and others. This screenshot shows the many data points available on the state site as well as on the district site. 


The data by school is not as well presented as the other breakouts in the state site and is not presented on the district page at all. (Both sites do present data by ethnicity). So, here’s the school data in a table, then the overall district totals, followed by some observations.

By School

School Name Graduation Rate Number of Grads Number of Seniors
Evergreen 82.0% 218 266
Highline 78.7% 196 249
Mt Rainier 89.5% 349 390
Tyee 79.6% 156 196
Raisbeck Aviation Above 97% 98 * 100
Big Picture 80.0% 24 30
Choice More than 90% 23 25
New Start 49.0% 25 51
Open Doors Re-engagement program 4.0% 4 96
Puget Sound HS More than 90% 13 14


Totals of Various Groups

School Name Graduation Rate Number of Grads Number of Seniors
OSPI Number for District Total 83.5% 1134 1358
Four comprehensive high schools 83.4% 919 1101
Four comprehensive high schools + Aviation 84.7% 1017 1201
4 alternative programs: Big Picture + Choice + New Start + Puget Sound High School 70.8% 85 120
5 alternative programs: Open Doors  + Big Picture + Choice + New Start + Puget Sound High School  41.7% 89 216
Sum of all schools: 4 comprehensive, Aviation, and 5 alternative programs 78.1% 1106 1417
Sum of all except Open Doors 83.4% 1102 1321


Some observations:

  1. Raisbeck Aviation and Mt Rainier have much higher rates than the other three comprehensive schools.
  2. Open Doors is a very different type of program. Students check in but are not on campus very often. I am unsure how many students are in the same chronological cohort. No matter, the main point is the rate is very low for these kids, and likely some of them should be included in the overall district rate. (Note that Open Doors is not listed in the school district breakout of ethnicity, probably because the numbers are so low there would be privacy concerns.)
  3. This data is hard to work with. I’m unsure how OSPI got an additional 37 seniors (1321 compared to 1358). 

Overall District Trends from 2013 through 2022

We can break the 10 years of 2013 through 2022 into three groups:

  1. 2013 and 2014: rates were around 62%.
  2. 2015-2017: rates of 70%, 75%, and 79% increased significantly each year.
  3. 2018 – 2022: rate of 81.1% was followed by four years of 83 “and a small percentage.” 

So, 83.8% in the first year of Covid was rounded to 84%, the 83.5% in 2022 rounds to 84% also; the other two years were 83.3%.  

Throughout these years, the requirements for graduation have changed many times. As outlined in this table from the State Board of Education, at times, students have had to pass tests or complete a culminating project. Students have had to complete 24 credits in recent years, whereas in earlier years, the state did not require as many. Note, though, the local districts such as Highline could and did go beyond the state minimums.

One factor to remember: the jump from 62.9% in the 2013-14 school year to 70.3% in the 2014-15 school year occurred at the same time as a major change in the definition of the grad rate. Previously, students enrolled in Open Doors re-engagement programs were included in the graduation rate. Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, these students were no longer included. This was detailed by KNKX radio reporter Ashley Gross in a story still available online. Excluding several hundred students did have a material impact on the rate over the years. 

This graph shows the overall trend:


Graduation Rate by Gender 

Simply put, boys are less likely to graduate and more likely to drop out, but the gap has varied and mostly narrowed over recent years.

Class of: Boys: Grad % Girls: Grad % Difference
2022 81.1% 86.9% 5.8%
2021 79.2% 88.1% 8.9%
2020 81.0% 87.3% 6.3%
2019 80.2% 86.5% 6.3%
2018 77.9% 84.7% 6.8%
2017 73.8% 84.7% 10.9%
2016 71.5% 78.3% 6.9%
2015 64.8% 76.3% 11.5%


Comparing 2022 to five years ago, the class of 2018: The rate for boys has increased a lot more than for girls. This data is also only available on the state site. 

Closing Comment

There are a lot of ways one can slice and dice the data. When writing this article, I contacted the State and asked how accessing more of the State’s data works. Eventually, I may write an update on this article. 

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