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Report puts N.M. graduation rate at bottom

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New Mexico has been celebrating its 70 percent high school graduation rate since it was announced in January, marking an all-time high.

But a national report released Thursday that was based on older data paints a far more sobering picture. The report placed the state’s graduation rate at 59.4 percent, landing it squarely in 50th place in national rankings.

Only the District of Columbia, with a rate of 57 percent, trailed the Land of Enchantment.

There are several important caveats. Thursday’s “Diplomas Count” report, released by the national publication Education Week, is based on the class of 2010. New Mexico’s 70 percent rate is for the class of 2012.

But the difference of years does not fully account for the discrepancy between the numbers, since New Mexico’s official state graduation rate was 67.3 percent for the class of 2010.

So, why the difference? New Mexico calculates its graduation rate based on a “four-year cohort” calculation, which tracks specific students through the system from ninth grade to graduation. This method is also used by the U.S. Department of Education.

The Diplomas Count report uses a method that does not track specific students, but looks at how much total enrollment changes between grade levels, or how many students are “lost” from one grade to the next. For example, to calculate the rate for 2010, the method looks at how many sophomores enrolled in 2008, compared to how many freshmen there were in 2007. This is done for each grade level.

Leighann Lenti, director of policy for the state Public Education Department, said both calculation methods are useful. She emphasized that New Mexico has improved since 2010, saying New Mexico’s poor ranking that year shows there have been real gains since then.

“We believe in 2010 we weren’t where we wanted to be,” Lenti said. “And while it’s not the same measure we use, it is another valid measurement.”

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