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NM’s high school graduation rate still low

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Sue Cleveland High students in Rio Rancho turn their tassels as they officially graduated last May. Nationwide, only the District of Columbia and two states had graduation rates lower than New Mexico's 70 percent in 2011-12.Although New Mexico's graduation rate has improved, the state still ranks near the bottom when it comes to other states. Shown here are Albuquerque students at last summer's graduation ceremonies. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Sue Cleveland High students in Rio Rancho turn their tassels as they officially graduated last May. Nationwide, only the District of Columbia and two states had graduation rates lower than New Mexico’s 70 percent in 2011-12.Although New Mexico’s graduation rate has improved, the state still ranks near the bottom when it comes to other states. Shown here are Albuquerque students at last summer’s graduation ceremonies. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico’s high school graduation rate, which has shown improvement in recent years, still ranks near the bottom when compared with those of other states.

Nationwide, only the District of Columbia and two states – Nevada and Oregon – have graduation rates lower than New Mexico’s 70 percent. And like New Mexico, Alaska and Georgia also have 70 percent graduation rates.

The numbers pertain to students who graduated at the end of the 2011-12 school year.

Leighann Lenti, the New Mexico Public Education Department’s deputy secretary for policy and programs, said the ranking needs to be viewed in context. She noted that the state’s rate was 63 percent in 2011, before jumping to 70.3 percent last year.

“Even more exciting,” Lenti continued, “is that our Hispanic and Native American students, as well as our students with disabilities, showed even more improvement than the overall student population.”

Based on that, she said she expects even more improvement in the future.

Larry Behrens, a spokesman for the PED, said the department is now calculating the 2013 graduation rate.

The preliminary federal data for 2011-2012 were posted on the U.S. Department of Education’s website last week. The department will release a final report early next year. The graduation rate measures the percentage of students who completed high school in four years and earned a regular diploma.

Early this year, New Mexico officials celebrated the newly achieved 70 percent graduation rate, an all-time high and an increase over the previous year’s 63 percent.

The report finds it “particularly encouraging” that the graduation rate in many states improved in 2011-12.

The data show that 16 states reported graduation rates at or above 85 percent. Iowa, at 89 percent, came out on top. The District of Columbia, at 59 percent, had the lowest rate in the country.

The report divides the ranking into five sections. New Mexico and the District of Columbia are in the bottom section with seven other states: Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Nevada and Oregon.

Kentucky and Idaho, meanwhile, have been issued “timeline extensions” from the Department of Education and were not required to submit the same data as other states.

Only nine states reported the same graduation rates for 2011-12 that they did in 2010-11, which the preliminary report says indicates “a small but encouraging sign of improvement.” The final report early next year is likely to show that more states improved their rates.

The latest Department of Education report addresses methods used to determine the most factual rate. It also notes that because states are still working out the details of calculating and reporting their data, changes reported from 2010-11 to the following year could be misleading and should be interpreted with caution.

The different methods previously used by states to report graduation rates also made comparisons between states unreliable.

The new common method – in its second year of use – is intended to give states, districts and schools a chance to promote greater accountability, and develop strategies to reduce dropout rates and increase graduation rates.

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