Advocacy group in Yukon accuses territory of inflating graduation numbers

YFNED says graduation rates are nearly 25 per cent lower than what department of education reports.

A First Nations education advocacy organization is accusing the territory’s Department of Education of falsely inflating high school graduation rates.

“Right away it was pretty obvious,” said Yukon First Nation Education Directorate executive director (YFNED) Melanie Bennett. “We need to start posting accurate data.”

According to June 4 release by YFNED, the department’s statistics show 71 per cent of Indigenous students and 83 per cent of non-Indigenous students graduated high school over an eight-year period.

The statistics are comparable to other jurisdictions across Canada.

To better understand graduation rates and other education metrics, YFNED employed its own team of education and data analysts to look at the department’s graduation statistics.

The statistics were sourced from the department’s annual education reports.

It calculated that over the same eight-year period, only 47 per cent of Indigenous students and 73 percent of non-Indigenous graduated, with overall grad rates trending downward.

The directorate asserts its numbers are nearly 25 per cent lower than what the department publishes.

Bennett said she’s not surprised by the data because of the method used by the department to calculate graduation statistics.

The department includes students who make it to Grade 12 with the potential to graduate, meaning it factors in students who entered Grade 12 with all required credits from Grades 10 and 11.

But according to YFNED, it included all Grade 12 students in its statistics, not just those with the potential to graduate.

“These percentages would be even lower if Yukon education department also accounted for those students who dropped out of school before Grade 12, but currently this data is also ignored – and is currently unavailable, despite YFNED requesting it,” the release states.

The release also point to two dismal  reports from the federal Auditor General from 2009 and 2019 that found the territory “did not collect enough data or report back with accuracy or consistency.”

Bennett said it’s time the department is held accountable for misleading the public about its data methods.

“I think the biggest thing is that if they’re going to be publicizing that information, then let’s make sure that it’s an accurate piece of information,” she said.

“It’s tough because it’s not a pretty picture. I believe though – the good, the bad, the ugly – we have to look at it so we can figure out what to do.”

Students falling behind

YFNED’s data team also found 40 per cent of Indigenous students entering Grade 12 did not graduate over that same eight-year period, as did almost 20 per cent of non-Indigenous students.

Bennett said the numbers paint a troubling picture of how Indigenous and non-Indigenous students are struggling with the territory’s current education model.

“It’s concerning to me that it’s not just the Indigenous population that the graduation rate is declining. That to me speaks to (the need for) system change,” she said.

Bennett said there’s many reasons why Indigenous students in particular are falling behind when it comes to education, such as family problems with addictions, generational trauma and disengagement when it comes to learning.

“They’d rather be out on the land, or they want to choose options where they can train outside of school and don’t necessarily look at that certificate as a value,” she said.

Department of education responds

The department of education didn’t respond to APTN News’ request for an in-person interview by deadline, though it did issue a statement.

It said the territory developed its methodology to report on graduation rates based on British Columbia’s model because it uses the same curriculum and student information system.

It claims it uses a “consistent method” to ensure graduation rates in the territory can be compared year-to-year as well as to other jurisdiction’s rates accurately.

“We understand that calculating graduation rates for students who graduate within a 5-year period, or the typical amount of time to complete grades 8 through 12, only gives us one perspective. To capture more information about those who take a bit longer to graduate, we also report on the 6-year graduation rate,” it reads.

The statement said YFNED has introduced a new methodology for calculating graduation rates and that it plans to review their methodology and concerns in detail with the territory’s three school authorities.

“We are working to improve graduation rates, inclusive of our Indigenous students,” the statement said.

Bennett said the goal now will be to take a closer look at the data its collected so YFNED can better understand why students aren’t graduating.

“Hopefully all of that information will bring forth some things that we can proactively work towards to bring change for our Indigenous students and improve things in the system.”

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