While the overall high school graduation rate in North Dakota remains high, Native American students continue to lag behind.
The total graduation rate in 2015-16 — the most recent year data is available — was about 87 percent. For Native American students, however, that number is significantly lower. The graduation rate for that demographic group was roughly 65 percent in 2015-16.
On Wednesday, the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction held a Dropout Prevention and Re-engagement Summit, a pre-summit for the Fall Educators Conference held this week in Bismarck.
Lucy Fredericks, director of the department's office of Indian and multicultural education, said the event was requested by teachers across the state who serve Native American students. These teachers had indicated in a survey that they would like to learn more about dropout prevention strategies, she said.
Dozens of educators filled the Brynhild Haugland Room at the state Capitol to hear from education experts on ways to keep students engaged and encourage them to not leave high school before they graduate.
State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler kicked off the summit by thanking the teachers for their commitment to finding solutions to lower student dropout rates, especially among Native American students.
Baesler said, since the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, achievement gaps for all subgroups have narrowed, except for Native American students.
"That is not OK, and it keeps me up at night … obviously, what we were doing for 15 years was not working. We have to re-examine that, and we have to do things differently," said Baesler, adding that No Child Left Behind's replacement, the Every Student Succeeds Act, an education overhaul that eliminated some federal regulations, will help with these efforts.
North Dakota is "significantly ahead of the nation," in terms of its high school graduation rate, Sandy Addis, keynote speaker and director of the Clemson University's National Dropout Prevention Center, said at the event.
There's been some progress with Native American students in the state, but still plenty of room to improve, said Addis, adding that low-income student graduation rates continue to fall behind.
Addis, whose organization acts as a dropout prevention resource to schools across the U.S., said dropping out of school is the result of a long process of disengagement that may begin before a child enters schools.
Additionally, holding students back a grade increases the risk of school dropout. He also cited data from Georgia, which found a correlation between absenteeism and school dropouts.
Teachers have to help parents understand that their children need to be in school, Addis said.
He spoke about researched ways to prevent student dropout, including three basic "foundation" strategies: making sure everyone in the school system understands and owns the graduation rate, collaboration with the community and ensuring that students feel safe in their schools.
Baesler said DPI intends to continue the summit for years to come. Graduation data for 2016-17 will be released early next year, according to Dale Wetzel, the department's public information specialist.