From Grade 8 to grad, native numbers rising
The growth is good, but is it sustainable?
That’s the question Renee Spence is left pondering after releasing last week a report on First Nations students in the Kamloops-Thompson school district.
Spence, the administrator for the school district’s First Nations education council, pointed specifically to growth in the Grade 8 cohort percentage completion rate — the number of students who were in eighth grade in 2005 and graduated in 2011.
The rate for First Nations students in the school district last year was 64 per cent — up nine per cent over the previous year, but still significantly lower than the district’s overall rate of 76 per cent.
“We’ve never been over 60 per cent before,” Spence said.
“So, it is significant. However, the only way we’re going to be satisfied is if we can sustain it.
“Sometimes, a big jump makes you wonder if it’s a stable increase or if it’s an anomaly or a one-off.
“We’re hoping it’s a stable improvement, but you can see our numbers have been up and down in past years.”
In 2004, the Grade 8 cohort rate was 54 per cent.
It fell to 44 per cent the following year and didn’t get back up above half until 2007, when it hit 56 per cent.
It has fluctuated since then, too, measuring 51 per cent in 2008, 57 per cent in 2009 and 55 per cent in 2010 before last year’s spike.
During the same time period — 2004 to 2011 — the overall school-district Grade 8 cohort rate has stayed fairly level, between 75 per cent and 79 per cent each year.
Despite the record high First Nations Grade 8 cohort rate in 2011, the overall aboriginal graduation rate was down slightly — to 88 per cent from 90 per cent the previous year.
But, Spence noted, the number of First Nations students who graduated high school in the district — 151 in 2011, according to the report — was higher than it’s ever been.
The number of aboriginal school-district grads going on to post-secondary studies was also up slightly, to 57 last year from 54 the year before.
In 2007, that number was 38.
The increases are likely attributable to efforts in working with aboriginal students to make sure they stay in school and succeed.
“We’re trying more and more to identify at-risk students and spot them earlier,” Spence said.
“Early intervention, early support and early diagnostic work in determining where the student is having difficulty.”
A lot of the time, Spence said, the issues can be traced back to the student’s home life.
“You have to work on both sides of it — the academic and the social-emotional,” she said.
“And, we are doing everything we can to engage parents and connect with them.”
Spence pointed to the recently opened Strong Start program at A.E. Perry elementary, which was designed with an aboriginal focus in mind.
It’s intended to introduce parents and pre-school-aged children to the school system before they the kids are old enough to attend class.
“If we can get parents engaged before their kids come to school, then it will be easier to have that connection,” Spence said. “If you can start that earlier, that’s great.”
Overall, Spence said she’s “cautiously optimistic” given the numbers.
“We’re happy about these results,” she said.
“But, the ‘however’ is there. We need to see this sustained and growing.”