LPS scores, graduation rate hold steady through increased rigor

High school graduation rates and state student achievement assessment scores are all holding steady at Lincoln Public Schools – generally scoring above state averages – as the school district increases both rigor and student enrollment numbers.

On Friday the Nebraska Department of Education released graduation rates from school districts across the state, as well as the many documents representing the 2016-17 Nebraska State Accountability (NeSA) scores (assessment based on state standards).

The LPS scores reflect many factors that result in providing quality education for LPS children, according to Steve Joel, superintendent at LPS, factors that include challenging curriculum and robust classroom instruction, quality educators and support for educators, as well as strong school and district leadership.  “We are seeing strong numbers and success stories for our students, while we also have work ahead of us with a rapidly growing student enrollment reflective of our changing demographics.”   

Jane Stavem, associate superintendent for Instruction at LPS, noted LPS scores have generally stayed solid and consistent – a success when considering the dramatic growth in student enrollment and the school district’s continued focus on raising the bar. “We are graduating a high percentage of students and we are very proud of that fact.  We continue to have a high graduation rate compared to school districts of the same size and demographics.  And we have more graduates than ever before, despite increased graduation requirements and rigor.”

For example:

  •         New LPS graduation requirements beginning with the class of 2015 increased total credits from 230 to 245 – and 182.5 of those credits are in required subjects compared to the previous 152.5.
  •         Along with new state science standards (adopted this fall) LPS Science Curriculum Specialist James Blake has worked diligently to prepare students and teachers.
  • Math Curriculum Specialist Josh Males has worked to deal with significant revision in math curriculum to meet the new state college and career ready standards.
  •         English Language Arts: Since the new state standards implementation in 2014, and aligning ELA state assessments to the standards (spring 2017) – the Nebraska Department of Education is raising the bar for LPS and students across the state.  The 2017 year is the first time students were assessed over the current, more rigorous Nebraska ELA College and Career Ready Standards. ELA Curriculum Specialists Lisa Oltman and Mindy Murphy have worked to revise district curriculum to help students acquire the skills described in the new standards.

Graduation rates

The high school graduation rate for for the LPS class of 2017 decreased slightly, from 85.6 to 85.2 percent, statistically staying flat, Stavem said, adding that LPS actually had more graduates than ever in 2017 – 2,032 compared to 1,955 the year before.  The percent of dropouts has remained constant (6.2 percent), while the percent of students continuing in school to work toward graduation after four years has increased (8.2 percent for 2016, 8.6 percent for 2017).

Stavem also noted that LPS is almost at 90 percent graduation rate when five- and six-year graduates are included.  “We continue to encourage students to stay with us beyond their senior year, if they did not graduate, because they are important to us, and more and more of those kids are graduating.”   

The official graduation rate in Nebraska and across the country is what is called the “on-time” rate – students who graduate in four years – but LPS also closely tracks students who graduate in five years (88.2 percent for the most recent numbers), and six years (89.9 percent).

LPS uses two sets of data for evaluating and assessing the high school graduation rate in the school district – using formulas that are slightly different – both released Friday.  For more than 20 years, LPS has followed the general rule of calculating graduation rates for students who start as ninth graders in the school district and graduate in four years on time. That means 85.2 percent of the students in the class of 2017 who started at LPS as ninth graders – and did not move away – graduated on time in four years.  (That compares to a graduation rate of about 80 percent at LPS more than five years ago.)

Graduation numbers for school districts across the state released Friday by the Nebraska State Department of Education use a slightly different calculation formula. The state includes students who transfer into high school after ninth grade begins: a formula that gives LPS an 82.8 percent, compared to 83.24 the previous year.  The state also released numbers for students who graduated in five years (86.7 percent), and six years (88.0 percent).  LPS officials note the difference in calculations is understandable: Students who arrive and transfer into LPS later in their school experience tend to have a greater number of challenges and therefore may graduate at a lower rate.

Achievement scores

NeSA achievement scores for LPS students released Friday are mostly above state averages – in fact, LPS scores are well above other large school districts in Nebraska.

Some scores are problematic to evaluate and compare this year, Stavem said, explaining the NeSA ELA test was new last school year – intending to measure the new College and Career Ready Nebraska Standards.  Teachers generally use NeSA scores – with other assessment information – to support a student’s ongoing learning, she continued.  “One of our challenges using NeSA scores this year is that they look starkly different from previous years and don’t necessarily line up with our other assessments and indicators.”

What’s more, the Nebraska Department of Education urged viewing the scores with caution with these words: “NDE expected the change in proficiency numbers and have been communicating to schools, districts and the public that the expected results were forthcoming for three years. The change in number of non-proficient students is a result of the increased expectations for students in Nebraska as we move to a focus of all students becoming College and Career Ready. Teachers and students are not suddenly poor performers…We cannot make comparisons between this year’s NeSA-ELA scores and any previous scores. This is a new baseline with high expectations for College and Career Readiness. There is really no comparison.”

ELA and math tests were given to all Nebraska students in grades 3-8, and the science test was given to 5th and 8th grade students. This was the seventh year Nebraska students have taken math, the sixth year for science and the first year they have taken the new NeSA ELA exam. Next year students will take a different assessment in ELA.

Stavem said the school district uses many other tools and assessments that affirm LPS students are continuing to learn and improve.  LPS has long focused on the goal of making sure students are college and career ready, she continued, pointing to the fact that 68 percent of LPS students in the class of 2016 went on to attend college – and92 percent of LPS students who enrolled in a four-year college continued into their sophomore year.  “The students we send to college are ready, our numbers confirm that – and those numbers are well above national averages. We are confident our students are prepared.” 

Summaries of each achievement area

English Language Arts (ELA), grades 3-6

  • In all grades, the percent of LPS students proficient on NeSA-ELA exceeds the state average.
    • 7 points higher in 3rd grade
    • 9 points higher in 4th grade
    • 7 points higher in 5th grade
    • 8 points higher in 6th grade
  • 2017 is the first year the NeSA-ELA assessment has been given. The design of the assessment has changed and scores on the NeSA-ELA should not be compared to scores from previous years on the NeSA-R.  Next year students will take a different assessment, the NSCAS.

ELA grades 7, 8 and 11

  • In grades 7 and 8, the percentage of LPS students proficient on NeSA-ELA exceeded the state average (6 points higher in 7th grade and 7 points higher in 8thgrade)
  • In grade 11, the percentage of LPS students “On Track” or “Meeting” expectations on the ACT exceeded the state average


  • Elementary curriculum enhancements showed evidence of effectiveness in fifth grade during the 2016-17 school year, coming within one percent of the highest all time score over six years of the test.
    • The high score occurred while all students were using a new science curriculum for the first time in fifth grade only, while the test covers material over three years of instruction.
    • In fifth grade, the percent of LPS students proficient on NeSA-S rose steadily from 2012 to 2014 and then became relatively stable in 2013-14, and have maintained.
  • Middle schools met state average in 8th grade – in fact, were 1 percent higher.
  • 2016-2017 was the first year ACT-S was given in place of NeSA-S for LPS juniors – and they exceeded the state average on the ACT science by two percent proficient.


  • In grades 3-8, the percent of LPS students proficient on the NeSA-M exceeds the state average in every grade.  
  • Results of first year of using ACT scores for 11th grade achievement indicate the school district is above the state average.



Published: December 1, 2017, Updated: December 1, 2017