Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a planned mini-series that examines the state of District 518 schools based on the Minnesota Report Card. The next article in the series will explore District 518 students’ proficiency on state exams.

WORTHINGTON — A diverse student population taught by experienced educators in a high-poverty district is what newly released data says about Independent School District 518.

Updated annually at the end of August, Minnesota Department of Education’s Minnesota Report Card provides insight into a variety of categories, from student demographics, graduation rate, attendance and academic performance.

Worthington remains highly diverse. with 66% of the student population categorized as students of color. That statistic is reversed when compared to student demographic information statewide, which is comprised of 66% white students.

The largest ethnic group at Worthington Schools is Hispanic or Latino, comprising 48% of the district’s student population.

Other enrollment criteria shows that more than one quarter (1,104) of students are English Learners, 2,425 (62%) receive free/reduced price meals, 522 (13.4%) receive special education services and nine are homeless.

Worthington is within the top 25% of districts across the state with the highest percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price meals.

Staffing profile

The vast majority (273, 97%) of licensed staff within the Worthington district are white.

More than three-quarters of Worthington’s educators are considered experienced. According to the Minnesota Report Card staffing profile, 193 (81%) of educators have more than three years of experience.

That’s slightly above the 79% experienced educator average of other districts across the state identified as being “high-poverty.”

Where the district distances itself from the state average is in the number of licensed educators it has. At District 518, 96% of educators are licensed, which compares to 84% licensed in other high-poverty school districts across the state.

Worthington has a 16 to 1 student to licensed teacher ratio.

Graduation rate

The number of students graduating on time district wide remains below the state average at Worthington. In 2018 — the most updated data — 75% of Worthington students graduated on time, with 6% continuing beyond the typical four-year graduation rate. That compares to the state average of 83%.

Although below the state average, the 2018 graduation rate was an improvement from 2017, which recorded a 70% graduation rate. That year was the worst graduation rate Worthington recorded in a five-year period.

The district-wide graduation rate doesn’t tell the whole story. Worthington High School achieved a graduation rate of 86% in 2018. That compares to the Learning Center, which saw a four-year graduation rate of 45% in 2018.

Because of its low graduation rate, the Learning Center is receiving additional support through the Regional Center of Excellence, which is overseen by the Minnesota Department of Education.

According to Learning Center Principal Doug Brands, a team of administrators, educators and advocates laid the groundwork last year to develop strategies to intervene if a student is struggling with attendance, behavior or academics. Those three factors could cause a student not to graduate on time, and the school wants to get on top of issues early.

This will be the first year the school will begin implementing those early intervention strategies.

According to Brands, the Learning Center is a credit-recovery program, so it isn’t surprising it takes some students more than a four-year window to graduate. While some students decide to drop out, there are many others who don’t begin their education until they’re older.

Brands said it’s more difficult to explain why students who have long been in the district’s system come to the Learning Center. But they aren’t accounting for the majority of cases.

“When I look at the general population of the ALC, it’s a lot of immigrant students who are older,” Brands said, adding that developing English language skills becomes another challenge. “Four years is a tight window.”

Although it brings the district’s graduation rate down, the focus then becomes on helping students earn their degree before they age out of the system at 21, Brands said.

“It’s not all about the rate,” he said. “We want to help all our kids be successful and get to graduate.”

By year six or seven, the graduation rate at the Learning Center jumps to around 60%.