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Study: U.S. Grad Rate Highest Since 1976

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WASHINGTON – The nation’s high school graduation rate is the highest since 1976, but more than a fifth of students are still failing to get their diploma in four years, the Education Department said in a study released Tuesday.

Officials said the steady rise of students completing their education is a reflection of the struggling economy and a greater competition for new jobs.

Some 3.1 million students nationwide earned their high school diplomas in the spring of 2010, with 78 percent of students finishing on time. That’s the best since a 75 percent on-time graduation rate during the 1975-76 academic year.

New Mexico’s graduation rate for the class of 2010 was 67.3 percent – significantly lower than the national average, according to the report. New Mexico was near the bottom of the list, with Mississippi, Nevada and the District of Columbia posting lower rates.

The new report also showed evidence of the achievement gap between Anglo students and their Hispanic counterparts that have long plagued the country. Nationally, the 2010 graduation rate for Hispanic students was 71.4 percent, while the rate for Anglo students was 83 percent. In New Mexico, the rate for Hispanic students is 65.3 percent and the rate for Anglo students is 70.5 percent. So although rates in New Mexico are lower, the gap is also narrower.

Indeed, New Mexico’s graduation rate for Hispanic students is higher than the Hispanic rate in traditionally higher-performing states like Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan and Washington.

The report includes state-level numbers dating back to the class of 2003, and shows that the New Mexico graduation rate started at 63.1 percent in 2003 and has moved up and down since then, ultimately increasing to the 2010 rate of 67.3 percent.

The national dropout rate was about 3 percent overall, down from the year before. Many students who don’t receive their diplomas in four years stay in school, taking five years or more to finish their coursework.

“If you drop out of high school, how many good jobs are there out there for you? None. That wasn’t true 10 or 15 years ago,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The report found New Mexico has one of the nation’s higher dropout rates. The state is tied with Alaska, and dropout rates are higher in Arizona, the District of Columbia and Mississippi. Graduation rates and dropout rates don’t total 100 percent, because neither measure accounts for students who get their GED or who graduate in more than four years.

The new report calculates graduation rates differently than New Mexico’s official state rates. New Mexico calculates the rates based on a “cohort” method, which seeks to track the progress of individual students from ninth through 12th grade.

The national report relies on a less precise method, which compares the number of students who graduate in a year with the number of eighth-graders five years prior, the number of ninth-graders four years prior, and so on.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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