High school graduation rates up for B.C.'s Indigenous, special needs students

Education Minister Rob Fleming says more needs to be done to close the gap between Indigenous learners and those with special needs and the overall student population.

Rates vary considerably according to district

B.C. Indigenous students and students with special needs showed improvement in high school graduation rates, according to a Ministry of Education report. (Shutterstock)

The B.C. education ministry says high school completion rates across the province are on the rise and the greatest gains are among Indigenous students and people with special needs.

The ministry says 65.9 per cent of Indigenous students were completing high school within six years, according to data from the latest school year.

That marks a 2.1-per-cent increase over the previous year and a 19-per-cent increase from a decade ago.

The overall graduation rate in the province is 84 per cent.

Rates differ by district

In the Sea to Sky district, Indigenous students reached the same graduation rates — between 78 and 86 per cent between 2014 and 2016 — as all other students.

In fact, Indigenous students in the district actually graduated at a higher rate than the general population in two of those three years.

Susan Leslie, the district principal focused on Indigenous education at the Sea to Sky school district, says the success is from building relationships.

"Focusing on the land, the place, the territory and the Indigenous people — you can only be involved in this work if you have direct relationships with the communities," Leslie said.

But not every district showed improvements.

In Vancouver, for example, the Indigenous graduation rate — around 47 per cent between 2014 and 2016 — still lags behind the overall graduation rate.

Education Minister Rob Fleming says more work needs to be done.

"Vancouver is sometimes called an inner city school district," Fleming said. "There's a whole host of complexities and vulnerabilities among the student population there and in parts of Vancouver that affect both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children.

"That kind of gap ... has to be addressed."

Special needs students show gains

Students with special needs finished high school last year at a rate of 69.4 per cent, up 2.4 per cent from the previous school year and up over 25 per cent in the last decade.

"I think the credit has to go to excellent teaching staff and learning support assistants across British Columbia and different school districts," Fleming said.

However, those rates still lag behind the overall graduation rate.

Fleming said his government is proposing a funding review of the K to 12 education system to make sure funding is going to the right learning supports.

With files from The Canadian Press and Angela Sterritt