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Editorial: Graduation rates improve, but the needle barely moves

The fact that New Mexico’s high school graduation grew by 8 percentage points from 2011 to 2016 – or double the national improvement rate – is encouraging. But our state still has the second-worst graduation rate in the nation. That’s in part because the bar keeps getting higher as schools nationwide work diligently to improve their graduation rates, too.

According to new data from the U.S. Department of Education, New Mexico’s high school graduation rate hit a record high of 71 percent in 2016 – well below the national average, 84 percent. Washington, D.C., was last with 69 percent.

Albuquerque Public Schools, which educates about one-third of the state’s students and has a corresponding impact on such statistics, had a graduation rate of 66 percent. That was 4 percentage points higher than the previous year and it matches the average improvement rate nationwide. Given its outsized impact on state averages, it’s painfully clear that unless APS improves, the state barely moves the improvement needle.

When confronted with its low graduation rate compared to schools nationwide, APS often points to the high percentage of poor students it serves. But that’s not unique to New Mexico. And, nationally, students from low-income families had a graduation rate of 78 percent.

APS declined to comment on the most recent stats, choosing instead to recycle a comment from 11 months ago. “The hard work and dedication of our students and staff are paying off,” Superintendent Raquel Reedy is quoted via email. “It feels like we’ve caught a wave of momentum in our schools and community, and while we’re not anywhere near where we want to be, we’re moving in the right direction.”

Paying off? APS is keeping pace with the nation, and if you’re not closing the gap and still at the back of the pack, is that a victory?

New Mexico Public Education Department Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski says 52 New Mexico high schools are being targeted for extra support because they failed to meet the 67 percent graduation threshold for two of the past three years; 17 are in Albuquerque. Targeted additional funding is always welcome, but how those schools choose to spend money is key to improving graduation rates. It is essential to monitor progress so the public knows which schools put the money to good use and which frittered it away.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.


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