Report: Number of High School Graduations Stalled Or Even Dropped In 2021 Because Of COVID-19

A new report shows that high school graduation rates across the country declined in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“High school graduation rates dipped in at least 20 states after the first full school year disrupted by the pandemic, suggesting the coronavirus may have ended nearly two decades of nationwide progress toward getting more students diplomas,” education news nonprofit Chalkbeat reported Monday. Those results happened in spite of efforts in some states to loosen standards and give more aid to struggling students.

While complete national data will not be available until at least next year, the organization found that 20 out of 26 states that did report graduation data reported a decline in the rate of students graduating high school. Those declines stalled or broke a nearly two-decade-long trend of growth in high school graduations, the outlet reported. Even in 2020, most states saw graduation rates increase because of loosened requirements imposed by the pandemic and the shift to virtual learning in the latter half of the school year.

The states of Illinois, Oregon, and North Dakota saw the largest declines in graduation rate, with a 2 percentage point decline each. Another 5 states saw more than one percentage point decline in graduations, and 12 states saw modest declines of less than 1 point. Even in states where there was growth, it was significantly lacking from previous years. According to Chalkbeat, Florida had been growing its graduation rate by about 2 percentage points annually for the past decade and had seen a nearly 4 point increase in 2018 and a 3 point increase in 2020, but the state’s growth rate crashed all the way down to just 0.1 percentage point in 2021.

“We do have to be concerned that grad rates are down and that some number of kids that earned a diploma, they’ve learned less than prior years,” said education researcher and professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Education Robert Balfanz. “What we’re going to have to learn in the future is, how great is the concern?”

“​We have a significant group of kids on our campus who failed an entire year of high school,” Carly Lott, a counselor at Hug High School in Reno, Nevada, told Chalkbeat. She added that students were often working during school hours or working overnight shifts, leaving them unable to concentrate on schoolwork. “If they were at home, they weren’t engaged — they were doing other things,” she said.

The concerning trend is one of an ever-expanding list of problems that have impacted schools as consequences of the COVID pandemic. The Daily Wire reported that a number of urban school districts across the country have reported falling attendance because of COVID infections or parent concerns. The shift away from remote learning has also led to students falling behind when they do return to class. On top of learning difficulties for students, schools across the country have been forced to abruptly close and shift to remote learning because of staffing shortages, as The Daily Wire reported.

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