More local students are graduating within six years of starting Grade 8, but the Chilliwack school district still lags almost seven per cent behind the provincial grad-rate average, according to 2011-12 statistics released last week.
The district saw a 3.3 per cent increase in its six-year completion rate overall last year, with a 5.1 per cent gain among girls and a 1.4 per cent bump among boys.
Since grad rates in the province as a whole improved by less than one per cent, 2011-12 saw Chilli-S wack make the biggest gains against the provincial average in more than 10 years.
One important area where this didn't apply, however, was among aboriginal students.
While the provincial average there went up by 2.7 per cent, Chilliwack saw a 2.7 per cent decline, putting its aboriginal rate 3.5 per cent below the provincial average.
Before last year, grad rates in Chilliwack had consistently come in about 10 per cent below the provincial average for more than a decade.
But local officials now say those figures haven't accurately reflected the real picture in Chilliwack because the traditional six-year
rate doesn't account for factors like the district's large number of distance learning students, who may graduate but not within a six-year timeframe.
When such factors are accounted for, Chilliwack doesn't actually have a grad-rate problem, assistant superintendent Rohan Arul-Pragasam told the Times.
Superintendent Evelyn Novak didn't include completion rates as an area of concern in her Superintendent's Report on Student Achievement to the ministry last month despite the seven per cent gap between provincial and local six-year completion averages.
Instead of six-year rates, that report used four-year rates that factored out students in distance education, alternate education and continuing education.
The district's four-year completion rate was 84 per cent last year, up three per cent from the year before. This trend was cited in Novak's report as evidence of improvement in the district's completion-rate results. (No provincial comparators were provided.)
The shortcomings of the education ministry's six-year completion statistics are the subject of a ministry pilot program in five B.C. school districts aimed at developing a new measure that provincial officials are calling a "Success Rate."
One of the districts involved (Kamloops-Thompson) saw a 6.3 per cent jump in its grad rate after factoring out students who had died, moved away, were visiting temporarily on exchange or had such serious disabilities they were never expected to graduate.
The ministry-which plans to replace the six-year completion rate with the new Success Rate after officials have had a chance to test the concept-will be working with all districts in the upcoming months, according to a ministry spokesman.
In the interim, he said both the new rate and the old six-year completion rate will be tracked and made public.