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APS graduation rates continue to slide

a01_jd_16apr_grad1_Photo FilteredFewer Albuquerque high school students are earning diplomas in four years, according to new data released Friday by the New Mexico Public Education Department.

Districtwide, 61.7 percent of the class of 2015 earned their caps and gowns, compared with 62.7 percent in 2014 and 68.7 percent in 2013. The figures include APS-authorized charter schools.

APS’ 2015 numbers remain lower than the statewide graduation rate of 68.6 percent, and far lower than nearby Rio Rancho, where more than 82 percent graduated.

APS spokesman Rigo Chavez said administrators did not have any comment because they received the data Friday and were still reviewing it.

Five of APS’ 13 high schools did see improvements: Albuquerque, Cibola, Manzano, Rio Grande and Sandia all ticked up slightly.

Graduation rates for APS high schoolsLa Cueva High School had the best graduation rate at 81.4 percent, though that is down from 2014, when it was 84.2 percent. The lowest rates in the district were at Highland High School, 49.2 percent, and Del Norte High School, 52.4 percent.

The APS statistics highlight a perennial concern: the large gap in achievement based on race and socioeconomic status.

Just over half of English language learners graduated last year, 53 percent, and economically disadvantaged students fared just slightly better at 54.8 percent.

The picture is even worse for Native American students in Albuquerque. Only 45.5 percent completed high school in 2015, compared with 51.3 percent of African Americans, 60 percent of Hispanics, 68.6 percent of Caucasians and 74.5 percent of Asians.

Across New Mexico, Native American students got diplomas at a higher rate: 62.9 percent in 2015, up from 61.7 percent the previous year.

Overall, the state’s graduation rate dropped about 1 percent, from 69.3 percent for 2014 to 68.6 percent for 2015.

a00_jd_16apr_District Grad Rates_NEWBut there were a few bright spots.

Fifty-three percent of the state’s 89 school districts’ graduation rates rose compared to the previous year. Bernalillo, Bloomfield, Clovis and Española saw their rates increase by 5 percent or more, while Belen jumped 25 percent compared to last year – from 57.5 percent to 72 percent.

Santa Fe also saw its rate increase, from 64.4 percent to 66.8 percent.

Rio Rancho Public Schools continued to dramatically outperform APS but dropped from 84.4 percent to 82.7 percent.

“We will look closely at where we need to improve but are still very proud of our students and staff,” Superintendent V. Sue Cleveland said in an emailed statement. “Graduation is a top priority for Rio Rancho Public Schools. Our administrators, teachers and staff members go above and beyond to ensure our students are graduating while still maintaining the rigor and high expectations we set for our students.”

Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera noted in a news release that, though the statewide figures have dipped, they are still five points higher than at the beginning of her administration six years ago.

In 2011, New Mexico’s graduation rate was 63 percent, and APS’ was 63.4 percent.

Several years earlier, from 2008 to 2009, APS saw a dramatic improvement, rising from 46.2 percent of students graduating to 65.1 percent.

Skandera said New Mexico is “investing more in education than ever before” but needs to work harder to help young children build a strong foundation.

“That’s why we have to stop recklessly passing our young children on to the next grade even when they cannot read,” she said, referencing an administration-supported effort to hold back low performers in third grade.

Skandera also pointed to a new early warning system that will monitor students’ academic, disciplinary and attendance history to raise red flags and help keep them on track to graduate.

PED has worked with 17 schools over the past two years to pilot the program and will roll it out to all districts later this year.

To Stephanie Ly, president of American Federation of Teachers New Mexico, Skandera’s message is all “spin.”

“Dangerous sound bite policies pursued by Secretary Skandera and Governor Martinez have simply created chaos in our schools and further distract from student learning,” she said in an emailed statement.