Administrators with School District 58 are working on closing the gap between its overall six-year completion rate and that of students who identify as having aboriginal heritage.

Last year, the overall six-year completion rate continued to climb and reached 73.4 per cent.

However, the six-year completion rate for aboriginal students sat at 58.3 per cent — down from 64.7 per cent in the 2012-13 school year.

It’s also slightly below the provincial average of 61.6 per cent for aboriginal students.

Closing the gap in student achievement is one of the goals for SD58 identified in the Superintendent’s Report on Student Achievement.

SD58 superintendent Steve McNiven presented to the board of trustees on the report at its regular meeting on Jan. 14.

The district’s goal is to see 65 per cent or more of its aboriginal students complete high school in that six-year timeframe, according to the report.

The report states 48 per cent of the district’s enrolment identifies as aboriginal.

The gap in completion rates is mirrored in the gap in transition rates from Grade 9 to 10 and Grade 10 to 11 in SD58.

“We’re seeing a substantial drop there for aboriginal students,” McNiven said. “We knew it was there and of concern. It’s particularly noticeable around the difference between aboriginal and non-aboriginal students.”

Targets for the 2014-15 school year are transition rates for aboriginal students moving from Grade 9 to 10 and 10 to 11 at 90 per cent or better, and moving into Grade 12 at 80 per cent or better.

Despite minor dips over the last six years, the overall completion rate has remained on a positive trajectory since 2008-09, McNiven said.

“We do have those up and down spikes in our district because we’re pretty small,” he said.

Helping boost the numbers this year is the “substantial jump” in the completion rate for students with special needs, McNiven said.

The completion rate for students with a learning disability jumped to 53 per cent — up 24 percentage points from the 2008-09 school year.

The completion rate for students with behavioural disabilities also took a big jump last year to 38 per cent, which is an increase of 17 percentage points from the 2008-09 school year.

The district’s new goal for the overall six-year completion rate is 75 per cent, which is below the provincial average of 84.2 per cent.

“The areas we show improving are often the challenge areas for us because we’re not where we want to be yet,” McNiven said.

The report takes a holistic approach to student achievement by reviewing some programs and assessments that can foster greater learning readiness in the future, and ultimately contribute to completion rates.

Educators at the early years put together an assessment for social-emotional learning last year, and that assessment was used for the first time at the Grade 1 level as well.

Social and emotional factors can influence students’ well-being and their readiness to learn, McNiven said.

“One of the areas we see kids in kindergarten struggle with is anger management, identifying their emotions. When we’re more specific around identifying what it is we need to help support, then we can put that support in.”

Although some students enter the school system with vulnerabilities in social-emotional areas, teachers and support staff work hard to get them prepared for success, McNiven said.

At the Grade 4 and 7 levels, students take the provincial Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA), which tests reading comprehension, writing and numeracy.

That’s where the gap between starts to show, he said.

“When we look at courses at the high school level, we see a lot of kids being successful — more than what we had when they came into our system,” McNiven said. “So are we making progress with students, are we catching up?

Yeah, we are. That’s why our completion rate is getting higher. But the gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal does increase from Grade 4 on, and that’s something we need to start putting a greater focus on.”

The final report is due to the Ministry of Education by Jan. 31 and will be published on the school district’s website.