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New Mexico falls to last place for graduation rate

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico had the lowest high school graduation rate in the country during the 2013-2014 academic year, according to a new report.

Data from the annual Building a Grad Nation survey shows that only 68.5 percent of the state’s high school students earned a diploma that year, well below the 82.3 percent national average.

The Land of Enchantment has slid in the analysis, created by Washington, D.C., research firm Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education.

New Mexico was second lowest in the 2015 Building a Grad Nation report, coming in just ahead of Oregon. In 2014, the state tied for second worst with a trio of other low performers – Alaska, Oregon and Georgia – but bested Nevada.

Robert McEntyre, spokesman for the New Mexico Public Education Department, said that the state has “a lot of work to do,” though there are also positive trends.

“Although New Mexico’s graduation rate has improved by 5 percentage points since 2011, we have to continue to embrace reform if we want to continue to make gains,” he wrote in an email. “That’s why we’ve invested more than ever before in education, with more dollars going directly into the classroom.”

One area that needs improvement is New Mexico’s large number of “low-graduation-rate high schools.”

The 2016 Building a Grad Nation report places 40 percent of the state’s 154 high schools in this category because they failed to graduate at least 67 percent of their students. Only Alaska had a higher rate at 43 percent.

Nationwide, there are 2,397 low-graduation-rate schools – 61 percent of them charter, virtual or alternative high schools.

“Many of these schools exist to serve a vulnerable student population, and therefore deal with significant challenges,” said Robert Balfanz, co-director of the Everyone Graduates Center, in a prepared statement.

Those vulnerable populations include minorities, special education students and English language learners, who are continuing to struggle to earn diplomas.

Only 62.3 percent of New Mexico’s low-income kids got their cap and gown in four years, according to the 2016 report, compared with 76.6 percent of their wealthier counterparts. Anglo students’ 74.7 percent graduation rate outpaced Hispanics by 7.8 points and African Americans by 12.3 points.

John Gomperts, president and CEO of the educational foundation America’s Promise Alliance, said the nation must address the achievement gap to reach Building a Grad Nation’s goal of 90 percent graduating in 2020.

One state, Iowa, hit that target in the 2016 survey, with Nebraska almost there at 89.7 percent.

“As the report points out, raising the graduation rate to 90 percent would require graduating an additional 285,000 students (nationwide),” Gomperts said. “Putting it that way makes the goal appear that much more attainable. … Persistence is key.”