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Most APS traditional high schools see uptick in grad rates

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Valley High School teacher Nicole Vigil has a “Road to Success” poster in her classroom with inspirational sayings to push students to their end goals.

On the poster, framed with the black and white markings of a street, the sayings include “Always set realistic goals” and “Commit to excellence.”

Valley High students continued on that road last year.

The North Valley high school saw the biggest jump in graduation rates – of 7.9 percentage points – among Albuquerque Public Schools’ 13 traditional high schools. Valley’s graduation rate for 2017 was 75.2 percent.

It was one of nine traditional high schools whose graduation rates rose from the previous year.

Valley principal Anthony Griego credited the work of counselors and early transcript reviews as reasons for the higher rate.

Valley High School seniors, from left, Mia Santiago and Erica Muniz listen to the day’s lesson in English teacher Nicole Vigil’s class Tuesday. Valley High experienced the biggest jump in graduation rates among traditional APS high schools last year. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

“Our counselors start meeting with the kids right away when we do transcript reviews,” the principal of 18 years said. “So, they can review where they’re at credit-wise and offer them different options to make up the credit in a timely manner.”

There are three counselors at Valley, which has about 1,075 students, according to Griego. The counselors are assigned to students alphabetically, allowing them to stay with the same students and their families throughout the students’ high school careers.

Griego also pointed to teachers’ efforts to keep gradebooks – which both parents and students have access to – continuously and quickly updated as a reason Valley’s grad rates are looking up.

APS spokeswoman Johanna King said district schools use a system called Synergy. The system tracks attendance and grades.

Griego said progress reports used to be sent out to parents every four weeks, which gave students less time to try to improve their grades. But with the new system, students and parents can track progress more actively.

The district expectation is to keep Synergy updated regularly, but Griego says Valley has seen the positive effects of updating roughly once a week.

“It’s great to see with all these efforts we’ve been doing over time that we’ve actually got to see the growth,” he said.

Four of the traditional high schools’ rates dropped from the previous year: Albuquerque High School, Highland High School, Rio Grande High School and West Mesa High School.

Rio Grande had the biggest drop of 4.8 percentage points with a graduation rate of 61 percent.

“You look at the number with a negative sign in front of it and just wonder what else can we possibly do,” Rio Grande principal Amanda DeBell said.

DeBell, who has been principal at Rio Grande for four years, said that initiatives are in place to kick that rate up.

Senior Long Truong listens to Valley High English teacher Nicole Vigil during Tuesday’s class. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

She pointed to a ninth-grade academy that was launched last year. It’s in a separate building and aims to help ease the transition into high school.

DeBell said ninth-grade attendance has improved by 10 percent and the number of students failing has decreased by about 3.6 percent.

She said more data showing exactly who is graduating would ramp up efforts further.

“What I’m really waiting for is some data that comes from the state about subgroups, so I can see why and where we dropped so much,” DeBell said.

New Mexico Public Education Department data is broken down into subgroups by district but not by individual schools. “I think one of the factors that plays into our school … is the rate of mobility,” she said.

DeBell explained that kids will cycle in and out of Rio Grande, and “it seems like those kids fall off our data.”

She said she believes that tracking students who leave the school and come back would create a more accurate picture of four-year graduation data.

“We are working our tails off no matter what,” she said.

Among traditional high schools, La Cueva High School maintained the best graduation rate at 87.4 percent, up from 2016’s high of 84.9 percent. Highland High School had the lowest rate at 54.2 percent, which is 3.6 percentage points lower than the prior year.

Showing a slight decline was the rate for Hispanic grads in all APS high schools – 0.2 percentage points lower than the previous year. Hispanic students had a 65.8 percent 2017 graduation rate.

But most other populations – Native American, African American, Asian and Caucasian students – saw an increase in graduation rates.

African-American students saw the biggest increase with an 11.2 percentage point climb in one year. The graduation rate for African-American students was 65.2 percent last year.

APS’ class of 2017, including APS-authorized charter schools, had a 67.9 percent grad rate, compared with 66.2 percent for 2016.

“I am pleased with the steady progress we are making in Albuquerque Public Schools,” Superintendent Raquel Reedy wrote in a statement. “More and more students are graduating from our schools each year. We fully intend to stay on this positive course with a goal of making it possible for all of our students to earn a high school diploma.”

The 1.7 percentage-point uptick in 2017 is lower than the rise APS saw from 2015 to 2016 of 4.5 percentage points, according to NMPED data.

APS’ rate is lower than the statewide graduation rate of 71.1 percent. Both rates remain lower than the national average of 83 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

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