N.M. has nation’s worst high school graduation rate

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A new national survey says New Mexico’s high school graduation rate is the country’s worst.

The state’s four-year adjusted graduation rate for all high school students is 68.5 percent, says the report, Building a Grad Nation, which examines data for the 2013-14 academic year. By contrast, Iowa has the nation’s best high school graduation rate, at 90.5 percent.

In New Mexico, more than 40 percent of the state’s high schools are graduating fewer than 67 percent of their students, a dismal record equaled only by Alaska. This applies to schools with more than 100 students.

The state’s biggest challenge in improving its graduation rate, according to the report released late Monday, may be its high percentage of students learning English as a second language. New Mexico graduated just under 64 percent of that subset of students in 2014-15, according to the state government.

New Mexico has a higher percentage of English language learners than any state in the country, said Jennifer DePaoli, a senior education adviser for Civic Enterprises. Her agency worked with other entities, including the Everyone Graduates Center at the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University, to create the report.

In 2010, when the national graduation rate hit 80 percent, Building a Grad Nation set a goal of all states graduating at least 90 percent of their students by 2020.

At the time, the report’s organizers estimated that the rate would have to increase by 1.2 percentage points per year, a gain that it considered realistic.

The new report says that 21 states, including New Mexico, are off track to reach that 90 percent mark.

The new federally mandated Every Student Succeeds Act has not set objectives for graduation rates, saying instead that each state should set its own ambitious standard.

DePaoli said it is not always helpful to compare graduation rates from one state to another because the demographics are different. Kentucky, for example, has a high percentage of low-income students but it is not as racially diverse as New Mexico, she said.

One section of the Building a Grad Nation report highlights gains and losses made by subgroups of students. For example, Hispanic-Latino and African-American students have made the greatest gains in graduation rates with increases of 15 and 9 percentage points, respectively. Still, both remain behind the national average of 82.3 percent.

“Leaders in your state need to do more to focus on subgroups who are not doing that well… and high schools that are doing badly and figure out what measures are needed in order to increase the graduation rate,” DePaoli said.

States use a four-year rate, established by the federal government in 2008, to gauge their graduation numbers.

Last year, both Gov. Susana Martinez and Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera applauded the 7 percentage point growth in graduation rates made in New Mexico between 2011 and 2013, to more than 70 percent from 63 percent.

That increase was helped in part by a nationwide increase in the number of Hispanic students who graduated — 7.9 percent more between 2011 and 2014, according to Building a Grad Nation.

But then New Mexico regressed. The Public Education Department announced last month that the state’s graduation rate dropped to 68.6 percent for 2014-15.

The Santa Fe New Mexican is a sister paper of The Taos News.

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