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Graduation Rates Only Part of Story

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The good news: New Mexico had fewer “dropout factories” – schools that graduate less than 60 percent of their students – in 2009 than in 2002.

The bad news: New Mexico was among 10 states with lower graduation rates in 2009 than seven years earlier.

A study released Monday by several education groups showed New Mexico’s graduation rate decreased from 67.4 percent in 2002 to 64.8 percent in 2009. That’s 10 points below the national average of 75.5 percent the groups calculated for 2009.

Researchers acknowledged they used an older rating method that is not as accurate as current “cohort” methods. But they did so because not all states are using the cohort method yet, making comparisons difficult.

The older method calculates graduation rates by comparing the size of a freshman class with the number of diplomas awarded four years later. The “cohort” rate tracks every student who enters ninth grade, aiming to get the most accurate picture of which students graduated, transferred or dropped out.

The state started using this method in 2008, when the rate was 60.3 percent. For the class of 2010, the state cohort graduation rate was 67.3 percent. The rate for Albuquerque Public Schools is 64.7 percent, up from 63.2 percent in 2008.

The report was released Monday by Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, America’s Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education.

The goal of the groups is to boost the national rate from 75.5 percent in 2009 to 90 percent by 2020. The battle to reach that level will be won or lost in states like New Mexico that have room for improvement, the groups said.

The study also showed the state has increased the percentage of fourth- and eighth-graders who read proficiently, and more students are taking advanced placement tests than several years ago.

The report found that New Mexico had 22 “dropout factories” in 2009, down from 27 in 2002. By their estimation, that means 4,157 fewer students were attending “dropout factories” in 2009 than in 2002.

The report ranks New Mexico sixth for childhood poverty and notes its high proportions of Hispanic, American Indian and English-learning students, who often graduate at below-average rates.

“There are school districts that are trying,” said Colleen Wilber, a spokeswoman for America’s Promise Alliance, one of the groups behind the report. “They’ve got to adjust to all of that.”

Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera said New Mexico is “new” when it comes to reform, but she said some changes can happen quickly, citing her own reform agenda. That agenda includes letter grades for schools, retaining third-graders who cannot read at grade level, and evaluating teachers based in part on their students’ test scores.

Report researchers and Skandera both touted the economic benefits of improving public education.

“When we talk about the economy, there’s a three-prong stool – what are your taxes like, are you business friendly and the third piece is whether you have an education system that is creating a workforce prepared and ready,” Skandera said. “And the answer for New Mexico has been ‘No,’ but it’s an absolute commitment of ours to make that answer ‘Yes.’ We’re on our way.”
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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