Aboriginal student graduation rates remain significantly lower than non-aboriginal student graduation rates, but increased slightly from 2010 to 2011, according to the latest statistics released by the Vancouver School Board.
The six-year completion rate for the Dogwood diploma for aboriginal students rose from 25.4 per cent in 2010 to 32.1 per cent in 2011, while non-aboriginal student completion rates moved up from 80.7 per cent to 82.5 per cent during the same period.
"We're very pleased with our overall results and in particular this result. We still have a long way to go and it's not something we would just stop supporting. It's a direction that shows great effort by our teachers and support staff in the field and working with our aboriginal community and the students to complete high school," superintendent Steve Cardwell told the Courier.
The statistics are cited in the 2011-12 superintendent's report on student achievement, which is one of three reports being discussed at the Jan. 11 education and student service committee meeting.
The other two are the Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement second annual report and an update on plans for the aboriginal-focused school in Vancouver.
Cardwell noted data in the superintendent's report, which also includes information about overall student achievement, is not up-to-date, but it must be reported to the provincial government by the end of January according to requirements of the School Act.
Cardwell said any increase in graduation rates is a good sign, but major change doesn't happen overnight.
"It's a commitment by all of our partners in the education [field] to show improvement and that takes time," he said.
Steve Agabob, district principal of aboriginal education, noted that the number of aboriginal graduates is quite small so statistics can change dramatically based on results of one or two students.
He added that some students take more than six years to complete high school, but finish through adult education.
"Those numbers are going to be much higher. Many of our aboriginal students are working or it's hard for them to take on a full load," he said.
The district's goal is to improve the six-year graduation rates by one to two per cent annually. "That's two per cent per year and again this is a goal that we will try to build on," Cardwell said. "So if we can increase it from 32 to 34 per cent and beyond next year and then build on that again the following year. The ultimate goal of course is to have 100 per cent of all of our students graduate."
The school board is planning to open an aboriginal-focused school, possibly as early as September.
Valerie Overgaard, associate superintendent of learning services, said she's optimistic it can happen, although there's still a lot of work to be done.
"We're working with an aboriginal caucus entirely made up of community members. They're so involved in the decision making and have requested a lot of information so the decision is a rational one. We're just supporting them in that work," she said.
The number of students in Vancouver who self-identify as being of aboriginal ancestry, which includes First Nations, MÃ©tis or Inuit, has ranged between about 1,900 and 2,500 in the last decade. The figure was 1,900 in the 2010/11 school year and just about 2,000 in the current year.
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