State graduation rate continues slow uptick

The state and some of its major school districts are continuing to report a rise in graduation rates. According to
state PED data released Tuesday, the state average is at an all – time all-time high of 73.9 percent. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal file)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico’s largest school districts are seeing slight upticks in their graduation rates – in line with an upward trend the state reported as a whole, according to state Public Education Department data released Tuesday.

For instance, Albuquerque Public Schools’ graduation rate increased to 69.6 percent in 2018, compared with 67.9 percent the previous year. APS noted in a news release that this is the third straight year the district’s graduation rate has gone up.

However, that rate, which includes district charter schools, lags behind the statewide rate of 73.9 percent, which was a jump from 2017’s rate of 71.1 percent.

APS Superintendent Raquel Reedy wrote in a statement that she’s happy to see APS “climb steadily.”

“Our goal, of course, is to see all of our students graduate with the skills and characteristics they need for postsecondary education, careers, and life in an ever-changing world,” the statement said.

APS’ 13 traditional high schools had varied shifts in 2018 graduation rates, with six schools improving and five falling. Two remained the same.

Rio Rancho Public Schools, which has been consistently ahead of the state average for years, improved further in 2018, with a graduation rate of 85.4 percent – up 3.4 percentage points from 2017.

RRPS spokeswoman Beth Pendergrass said the district is proud of the growth and will continue to look for ways to improve.

Santa Fe Public Schools reported a 4.1 percentage point increase – from 68.9 percent in 2017 to 73 percent in 2018, just below the state average.

For the first time, the PED reported graduation data for students who are homeless, finding that just 52.5 percent of homeless students statewide graduated.

In the spring, the state agency is planning to roll out graduation rates for students who are in foster care.

In December, then-Gov. Susana Martinez touted the state’s 73.9 percent graduation rate for the school year that ended in mid-2018 as an all-time high and pointed to a 10 percentage point jump in the rate since 2011, when she took office.

And on Tuesday, newly appointed Secretary of Education Karen Trujillo applauded the teachers, families and students for that success.

However, even at 73.9 percent, New Mexico remains significantly below the national average. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the nation’s graduation rate for the 2016-17 school year was about 85 percent.

Trujillo said national comparisons can be tricky, because each state has different requirements.

“When we are comparing apples to oranges, it’s kind of difficult to make that direct comparison,” she said.

Regardless of national numbers, the PED’s aim is to increase graduation rates in New Mexico by making a diploma more appealing and attainable to all students, Trujillo said.

She said students as young as 13 years old will be at risk of not graduating if they don’t see how graduating from high school will benefit their lives. She aims to change this thought process and pitch graduation as valuable to all students, whether they go to college or into a career.

Trujillo said she would like to get the state average to 80 percent in the next four years.

“Our goal would be a 100, but our goal is to see a steady increase,” she said.

To do this, she said, the PED will identify strategies that work and encourage districts to adopt them from one another.

“There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. … It’s a matter of being able to identify what those best practices are and to have opportunities for the (PED) to be the conduit from one district to another,” she said.

Although the new secretary of education gave a nod to the previous administration for putting a focus on graduation rates, she also said there were some policies that would have hindered graduation rates, pointing to one that was going to require students to meet a certain benchmark on the PARCC assessment to graduate.

Trujillo said the PED will research what will benefit students in setting up new standards.

“As we look at what the requirements are and as we replace our assessment system … we look at students coming out of high school (and ask), what are the skills they need to have?” she said, adding that input from colleges and employers will help determine what will be needed to graduate.

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