Graduation rates in Nanaimo-Ladysmith still below province but trending up

·3 min read

While graduation rates in Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools district may be below the provincial rate, those numbers don’t necessarily reflect the district’s successes, say staff and board trustees.

“It doesn’t indicate what great work we do in this district; it doesn’t indicate the support that we do to lift those students up,” Board of Education Vice-Chair Jessica Stanley said at the Jan. 27 board meeting.

Superintendent Scott Saywell agreed that those rates don’t “show the full story of success.”

In 2019-20, NLPS’ six-year completion rate for all resident students was 84 per cent. That rate drops to 68 per cent within the Indigenous student population and 66 per cent among students with special needs. Comparatively, the provincial average was 90 per cent for all residents, 71 per cent among Indigenous students and 74 per cent among students with special needs.

But NLPS staff say comparisons are not helpful and it’s more useful to look at the trend within the school district.

“Using six-year completion rates to compare one district to itself over a period of time … is more authentic, it’s more valid to compare,” Ted Cadwallader, NLPS’ director of instruction for Indigenous learning, told the Sounder. “That’s not how it gets presented many times publicly.”

Despite a global pandemic, most six-year completion rates in NLPS still improved over 2018-19, although the Indigenous graduation rate dropped by 1.4 per cent.

One challenge the district faces is the high rate of vulnerability among students. The University of British Columbia’s Early Development Instrument (EDI), a questionnaire completed by Kindergarten students across the province, tracks physical health and well-being, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive development and communication skills. In the most recent wave of data, regions within Nanaimo-Ladysmith showed 40 to 53 per cent of students were vulnerable in one or more of those categories.

Like other school districts, NLPS uses a number of indicators to track student progress both at a school level and district level. Two efforts in NLPS, Cadwallader said, are a K-12 Indigenous student project that follows specific students on their paths to graduation and the use of focus schools. The district deploys additional resources like itinerant teachers with expertise in literacy and numeracy to those focus schools.

Since 2009-10, graduation rates in the district have improved by 10 per cent for all resident students and 25 per cent for both Indigenous students and special needs students.

“We are becoming better and better at knowing exactly who our students are at a district level … knowing which courses they will need, knowing which supports they will need if they are going to stay on that path to graduation,” Cadwallader said. The pandemic has required a shift in communication methods that has in some ways made it easier to bring school administrators together for weekly online meetings to discuss student needs, he said.

District modelling indicates the graduation rates will continue to go up over the next five years, Cadwallader said, though he expects a dip in the short-term as a result of the pandemic.

“We do place priority on graduation for our students. That’s a good indicator that we’ve done a good job for the vast majority of students…. It’s part of the whole picture.”

Rachelle Stein-Wotten, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder