SEBRING — The School Board of Highlands County’s graduation rate of 83.3% for 2019-20 ranks at 64th among Florida’s 67 district’s with only three small north Florida counties – Franklin, Gadsden and Taylor – having a lower graduation rate.

The district’s graduation rate has been improving in recent years, but still lags the statewide rate, which improved from 86.9% in 2018-19 to 90.0% in 2019-20.

Florida’s high school graduation rate increased by 3.1 percentage points over the last year and has increased significantly during the past 16 years, according to the Florida Department of Education.

The Highlands District graduation rate was 83.3% for 2019-20, which is an increase of 2.1 percentage points from the 2018-19 rate of 81.2%

Avon Park High improved significantly from 77.9% in 2018-19 to a graduation rate of 85.2% in 2019-20.

Lake Placid High increased slightly from 87% in 2018-19 to 87.9% in 2019-20.

Sebring High’s graduation rate slipped slightly from 82.5% in 2018-19 to 81.6% in 2019-20.

The Highlands Virtual School graduation rate for 2019-20 was 93.1%.

Highlands Superintendent Brenda Longshore said the graduation rate was calculated totally different this year due to not having the state exams.

This year’s graduation rates were determined by student grade point averages, course failures and the number of dropouts, she said.

“At this point I am going back through all of our students who did not graduate and see if they didn’t graduate due to failing courses or not having the appropriate grade point average with credit or dropping out from school,” Longshore said.

There were decisions made by districts on providing support for students. She believes Highlands has done a good job in trying to support students the very best that it could, however, there were a number of district students who didn’t fulfill the graduation requirements, she said.

Avon Park High School did make a pretty good increase from 77.9% to 85.2%. While Longshore said overall it was nice to see an increase, there were greater increases from other districts across the state.

Four of the other Heartland area counties made huge gains in their graduation rates except Glades County, which was already above the statewide rate and then slipped just below that state rate in 2019-20.

Polk County’s graduation rate improved from 81.2% to 86.5%.

The Florida Department of Education advised that when comparing the 2019-20 graduation rate to prior years, it is important to note that due to a COVID-related DOE emergency order, students in the 2019-20 graduating class were exempt from statewide, standardized assessment requirements with about 7.1% of the 2019-20 graduating class graduated with this exemption.

Federal regulations require each state to calculate a four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate, which includes standard diplomas, but excludes GEDs, both regular and adult, and special diplomas.

The U.S. Department of Education adopted this calculation method in an effort to develop uniform, accurate and comparable graduation rates across all states.