60% of CBE's Grade 12 Indigenous students didn't graduate on time in 2018-19

Sixty per cent of students who self-identified as Indigenous did not graduate from Calgary Board of Education high schools in the normal three-year period, according to data from the 2018-19 school year.

That is significantly higher than the provincial average

Indigenous graduation rates in Calgary are currently below the provincial rate — but both are considered very low. (Shutterstock)

Only 40 per cent of students who self-identified as Indigenous graduated from Calgary Board of Education high schools in the normal three-year period, according to data from the 2018-19 school year.

That's well below the provincial rate of 56.6 per cent during the same time.

"Amidst our success, I recognize there is one area in particular where our results are not fully demonstrating the level of success we'd like to see," said Chief Superintendent Chris Usih at Tuesday's public board meeting.

"The results of our students self-identified as Indigenous … like any learning organization we recognize there are always areas that can be improved."

According to the CBE there were 300 students in this cohort of self-identified Indigenous students (who would have started Grade 10 in the 2016-17 school year), meaning approximately 120 of them graduated after three years of high school.

For students who self-identify as Indigenous, the CBE data indicates that four-year- and five-year high school completion rates were in the 40 per cent and 50 per cent ranges respectively, while the province's results were in the 60 per cent range for both rates. 

And, while the province's differential between the three-year and five-year rates was 7.8 percentage points, the CBE's differential was 11.2 percentage points. 

As compared to "All CBE student" results (the entire set of students included in the data set), the gap for students who self-identify as Indigenous ranges from 37.4 percentage points to 33.3 percentage points.

"Both the CBE and the province had an achievement measure of very low, though the CBE did improve as compared to the previous three-year average," read the CBE's Results 2: Academic Success report.

It's an issue that CBE trustees had a lot of questions about at Tuesday's public board meeting, where administration broke down some of the ways they're working toward improvement, including plans to help Indigenous students transition from middle school and junior high to high school.

What are we doing that is working? What is different for us moving forward?- Trustee Lisa Davis

Superintendent of School Improvement Dianne Yee said that often involves a team, made up of teachers, a counsellor and administrators from the student's middle school or junior high, meeting with a team from their new high school.

"In order to go through the transition plans in terms of which particular parts of the student's learning plan needs attention, how students need to be scheduled and the kinds of programming possibilities and supports outside of the regular classroom," she said. 

Those supports can include a teaching assistant or an opportunity to be a part of a homework club.

Trustee Lisa Davis said while it's clear the CBE has a "very clear, heartfelt commitment to improving those results," she feels as though there is incomplete information being presented to trustees. 

"What are we doing that is working? What is different for us moving forward?" she said. 

Yee said administration does look very carefully at results for Indigenous students. 

Provincial achievement results are improving

"For our provincial achievement (PAT) results we continue to see gradual increases for those students," she said. 

Yee said students in Grade 6 writing the Math PAT have seen an increase in the percentage of students achieving acceptable from 40.4 per cent in 2017, to 44.2  per cent in 2018, to 49.7 per cent in 2019.

"In our diploma examinations, 83.4 per cent of Indigenous students in CBE who write diploma exams attain an acceptable score, whereas only 77.2 per cent of all Indigenous students in the province attain acceptable," she said. "We have made improvements."

Another point Yee made was that over the last five years the CBE's Indigenous population has grown year-over-year.

"And our student achievement targets have also increased," she said, pointing to the words of Chief Justice Murray Sinclair during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

"He would say there is no magic answer, we need to ask ourselves what future do we see? And then we work together to start that future.This will take us three, four, or seven generations — do not rush, this is important work."

Further, Yee pointed to the 34 school-based Indigenous education leaders across 37 schools who have a "heightened focus" on early and middle years, while also supplying supports to high schools.

"In this strategy we are facilitating direct academic intervention through a holistic whole school approach with those learning leaders embedded in courses and co-teaching with teachers," she said.

"They're supporting teachers to develop high impact practices for all of our Indigenous students, and certainly advancing those Indigenous knowledge systems in order to have our schools more culturally responsive and so our Indigenous students feel at home in those environments," she said. 

Yee said administration is also working with Indigenous Elders on a draft updated Indigenous strategy. She said they are meeting with the Elders later in January and will have further information for the board at that time.

While there may have been more than 300 Indigenous students in Grade 12 at the CBE last year, the board relies on a choice made by the student's legal guardians to identify their child as Indigenous on student forms.

"Not every Indigenous student is identified as such by their legal guardian. In the following report, only students who have been identified are included in the data for 'Students who Self-Identify as Indigenous,'" said the CBE.


Lucie Edwardson


Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson or reach her by email at