WAPS graduation rates stable despite pandemic disruption

Despite the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, the graduation rates for students in Winona Area Public Schools remained relatively stable in 2020. 

Nearly 80% of all students (78.5%)  in the Class of 2020 cohort at Winona Area Public Schools graduated in four years. At Winona Senior High School, the graduation rate was 86.2%. At Winona Area Learning Center, where students can receive the support and resources that better accommodate their needs than in a traditional K-12 setting, the graduation rate was 17.9%

These graduation rate figures are for the Class of 2020. Graduation data for the Class of 2021, which will be celebrated at Paul Giel Field on Friday night (in addition to a separate ceremony this past Monday for WALC students), will be released next year. Normally this data is released by MDE earlier in the school year, but the release was delayed because of the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Looking at a seven-year cohort, the graduation rate at the WALC jumps to 64%, while WSHS improves to 94.1%. District-wide, the graduation rate is at 88.8%.

The graduation rates for some subgroups improved from 2019. The graduation rate for Black students increased to 60% (from 43%), while the graduation rate of students from families who qualify for free or reduced lunch improved to 66.2% from 57.6%. At WSHS, 78.6% of Black students and 77.1% of students from families who qualify for free or reduced lunch graduated in 2020. Closing the “achievement gap” is a goal for not only Winona Area Public Schools, but school districts across the state.

“We are pleased that in the face of tremendous adversity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, so many of our students in the Class of 2020 were able to graduate on time,” WAPS Superintendent Dr. Annette K. Freiheit said. “That speaks to the resilience and determination of these students, their families, our educators and our community.

“However, this data also speaks to the work that remains ahead of us. We are committed as a team to improving the educational environment to better prepare our students for college, career and life.”

The graduation rates for WAPS students are aligned with graduation rates statewide. High school students statewide graduated at a 83.8% rate, a .1 percent increase from the year before.

There are several steps the district is taking to improve student outcomes, as outlined in the World’s Best Workforce Plan: 

  • Increase academic support for all students and enhance opportunities and programming for credit recovery at the Winona Area Learning Center that supports project-based learning and student voice.
  • Ensure that Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), or grade- and subject-level teams, are developing curriculum based on essential standards while using common resources, assessments and data that drive instructional decisions.
  • Embed and implement culturally and linguistically responsive teaching and learning into instructional practices.
  • Collaboration with student support services, such as Special Education, English Learner programming, Miller Mentoring and Title I.

The district also is in the first year of a three-year partnership with the Regional Centers of Excellence and Minnesota Department of Education to improve school climate. It also has a partnership with the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI) at the University of Minnesota to begin the implementation of Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) throughout the district. MTSS is a prevention and resource allocation framework that addresses the needs of every student and ensures that students have the support they need to be successful, according to CAREI. 

“Improving graduation rates doesn’t include only work at the high school level,” Freiheit said. “It involves systemic improvements to student learning beginning in early childhood and continuing through the elementary and middle school years before our students walk through their high school doors.”