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Billings Senior High School Graduation

Graduates throw their hats in the air at the conclusion of the graduation ceremony for Billings Senior High School at the Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark in May.

High school graduation rates continued to tick up in Montana last year, hitting a record high of 86.4 percent.

Graduation rates have generally trended up this decade, rising from 82.2 percent to a peak of 86 percent in 2015. Rates dipped to 85.6 percent in 2016 before inching up to 85.8 percent in 2017. 

The Office of Public Instruction released rates Thursday. 

Montana's dropout rate — which measures students who leave school, and will affect future graduation rate levels — nudged up less than .1 percent to 3.37 percent in 2017. However, that's still lower than dropout rates in the preceding three years. 

Graduation rates have gained increasing prominence in education debates. The national rate hit a record high of about 84 percent in 2016. The U.S. standardized how graduation rates are counted in 2011. 

Montana is one of several states that has rolled out graduation-specific initiatives. 

Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen has rolled out a similar initiative in conjunction with several other education groups, iGraduate, which will "build on the work of Graduation Matters," according to Arntzen's office. 

Graduation Matters was a grant program that funded local-level efforts to get students through school under previous Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau. 

“I am proud to see so many Montana students succeeding in their high school careers,”  Arntzen said in a press release. “The (Office of Public Instruction) has been working with schools to promote not only high school completion but also skill development that allows Montana students to enter the workforce or higher education prepared to succeed."

Achievement gaps between white and American Indian students have continued to persist in Montana. 

The 2018 graduation rate for American Indian students was 67.6 percent, up .1 percent from 2017 but up 1.6 percent from 2016. That's consistently more than 20 points below their white peers. 

Nationally, student achievement strongly correlates with poverty; Senior High, as School District's 2's poorest high school, typically has the lowest graduation rates in the district.