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The high school graduation rate in charter schools improved slightly from last year, but several schools posted some of the worst rates in Utah, state officials said on Wednesday.

Seventy-one percent of charter students who started high school in 2009 graduated on schedule in 2012, compared with 69 percent graduating the previous year.

Utah education officials were unsure why some charter high schools posted such low graduation rates: Beehive Science & Technology Academy in Sandy graduated 26 percent in 2012.

Other charter high schools, which are nontraditional public schools with greater control over curriculum, had some of the lowest grad rates in the state: Uintah River High in Fort Duchesne (32 percent); DaVinci Academy in Ogden (39 percent) and Merit College Preparatory Academy in Springville (53 percent), according to a State Charter School Board report.

The latest graduation rates from schools fall under new federal standards, which can be tricky. For example, students graduating with a GED are not considered graduates.

Charter high schools had a 71 percent grad rate, while traditional Utah high schools graduated 78 percent.

Some charter schools may not be reporting in a way that allows students to be tracked under the state system, said Paul Crawford, a Utah State Office of Education research analyst.

"This is self-reported information" by the charter schools, Crawford said.

He said for some reason, Beehive Science & Technology Academy administrators did not know where their students were going after leaving the school.

There's also economy of scale. Most traditional high schools have thousands of students, while charters typically have fewer.

So, if you have 10 students, and two do not graduate, then you have an 80 percent graduation rate for that year.

Still, the charter schools with the lowest grad rates had the following daily attendance: 50 high school students attended Uintah River High; 73 students at Beehive Science &Technology Academy and 236 students at DaVinci Academy.

Educators at Beehive Science & Technology Academy and Uintah River High did not return a call for comment Wednesday.

More Utah students are attending these schools than ever before: 8.4 percent of all K-12 students.

Overall, the graduation rate has risen the past five years for Utah charters, from 58 percent in 2008 to 71 percent in 2012.

"I do like the trend," Tim Beagley, State Charter School Board chairman, said Wednesday.

Charter high schools also had some of the best graduation rates in the state: Success Academy in Cedar City at 100 percent; Utah County Academy of Science in Orem with 98 percent; and Academy for Math Engineering & Science in Salt Lake City with 96 percent.

More students are attending charter schools in Utah with skyrocketing enrollment over the past decade: from 1,526 students in 2002 to a peak of 50,785 youngsters this school year.

Even so, most of those students attend charter schools until the ninth grade, when they switch to traditional high schools. Only 3 percent of charter students go on to attend a charter high school.

Educators said there are several reasons for this trend, not the least of which is that most students want to be involved in a social activity such as band or sports.

Under the federal guidelines, there were 1,879 charter high school students in 2012, of which 1,331 (or 71 percent) graduated. Students are considered "graduates" only if they have earned a basic high school diploma or an adult education secondary diploma during the year in which they were expected to graduate.

Those who do not receive a diploma in four years are considered "other completers," which include students who participate in the GED or obtain a certificate of completion, and those with disabilities who participated in the Utah Alternative Assessment.

Chris Bleak, president of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools, said charter high schools could become valued educational resources.

"We should be studying the successes and the failures," Bleak said. "The charter schools are our laboratory. Let's see what those schools are doing well and implement those best strategies."

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Charters' grad rates swing wildly

Some of Utah's lowest (and highest) graduation rates come from charter high schools, from Beehive Science & Technology Academy in Sandy (26 percent) to the Success Academy in Cedar City (100 percent).

O See the complete list online by clicking on "graduation rate report" at this link. >