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State: Almost Half of Class of 2008 Didn't Graduate

By Martin Salazar
Journal Staff Writer
       Roughly half the students who should have graduated with the class of 2008 failed to do so, prompting a call to action by the state's education secretary.
    "It is alarming," Education Secretary Veronica Garcia said during a news conference Monday at which the state unveiled its four-year graduation rate, along with results of the latest round of tests required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
    New Mexico's cohort graduation rate for the class of 2008 is 54 percent compared to the national average of 70 percent, according to the Public Education Department.
    The cohort rate tracked individual students from the ninth grade through the summer after their senior year in 2008 to show how many graduated.
    For Albuquerque Public Schools, the state's largest school district, the 2008 graduation rate was 46.2 percent, according to the state report.
    Students who transfer to a private, out-of-state or home school are not included in the statistic. Students receiving General Educational Development certificates are counted as nongraduates.
    "As we can see, the graduation rate is clearly unacceptable, and incremental gains will not be good enough," Garcia said. "We are going to need to increase our school, parental and community efforts to make dramatic improvement. I hope the release of these statistics will be a call to take action from every corner of the state."
    While APS has been reporting its cohort graduation rate for at least 10 years, Monday's announcement was the first time the state released such a statistic.
    The state traditionally has released annual graduation rates, which are based on the number of students beginning their senior year who graduate at the end of that school year. That allowed the state to post graduation rates in the 80th percentile.
    "I've been warning for several years now that the state could not fool itself with the annual graduation rate," Garcia said. "Now that we've had a statewide unique student identifier, we are finally in a position to give a clear picture of what is happening in New Mexico's high schools. We can look at the number of students that enter their freshman year as a class and see how many of them actually graduate at the end of four years."
    APS Superintendent Winston Brooks called the state's graduation rate announcement "a little anticlimactic," noting that the district has been using the 2008 cohort data for some time now to set its goals for improvement.
    "I don't think the number of seniors going in and the number of seniors going out is a true graduation rate," Brooks said. "I'm glad the state finally has everyone calculating graduation rates the same way."
    Continuing the achievement gap trend that has dogged education systems in New Mexico and elsewhere, Hispanic, black and American Indian students had lower graduation rates than their Anglo counterparts.
    Hispanics, who make up more than half of the state's students, had a graduation rate of 50.2 percent, compared to 64.1 percent of Anglos.
    The graduation rate for black and American Indian students was 52 percent and 45.4 percent, respectively. Asian students, meanwhile, posted the highest graduation rates at 67.4 percent.
    Jose Armas, a member of the Latino/Hispano Education Improvement Task Force, called the state's Hispanic graduation rate a major problem.
    "There has been no significant improvement in the closing of the achievement gap between white children and Latino children," he said. "This is a crisis."
    And while he credited Garcia and Gov. Bill Richardson for their efforts to improve the state's education system, he said more needs to be done.
    "The incremental changes that we are on right now are not going to fix the education crisis in New Mexico," he said. "They're certainly not going to address the Chicano and Latino education conditions that we have."
    Richardson told the Journal that a priority during his remaining time in office will be adopting education reforms focused on the dropout rate and other issues.

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