New Mexico Shows Slight Graduation Rate Decline

(Photo: John Walker, Creative Commons)

(Photo: John Walker, Creative Commons)

Data shows that graduation rates for New Mexico's students at the end of the 2014-2015 academic year decreased, but were still an improvement over levels a few years before.

The statewide drop was roughly 1%, which brought the number of students receiving diplomas last school year statewide to 68.6%, writes Susan Montoya Bryan for the Associated Press.

The Las Cruces district, as well as Albuquerque and Rio Rancho, experienced declines, but Santa Fe reported an upswing in graduation numbers. Bernalillo, Bloomfield, Clovis, and Espanola had graduation levels that rose by 5% or more.

There seemed to be no geographic tendencies, but low-income students, American Indian pupils, and students with disabilities all showed gains in their graduation rates.

New Mexico Education Secretary Hannah Skandera said the 2015 graduation levels are still higher than they were when Governor Susana Martinez began her tenure. Still, Skandera understands that the system has to get more diplomas into more students' hands.

"We're investing more in education than ever before, including investments to keep kids in school and on track to graduate, but building the best foundation for success early on is an important part," Skandera said.

The head of New Mexico's education department added that the Martinez administration unsuccessfully attempted to stop allowing kids from moving to the next grade if they were not reading at grade level. This would have been a reckless decision, said Skandera.

The secretary also suggested an early warning proposal that would monitor pupils' disciplinary, academic, and attendance records. The idea is to track students and assist them if any warning signs occur.

Currently, the Department of Education is refining a pilot program being tested at 17 selected schools with plans to begin using the process in all districts later in the year.

Thanks to a grant of almost $4 million, schools will have the money necessary to hire social workers who will be present in middle schools and high schools in 21 districts, with the goal of keeping students in school and reducing truancy.

Principal Rodney Wright of Belen High School said his teachers and staff have been making every effort to stabilize attendance issues. Belen is a rural district and has still achieved one of the highest increases in graduation rates.

Belen's principal said he was amazed when he discovered that the school had over a 14% increase. Hispanics, students with disabilities, and even low-income students exhibited improvement during the last year.

"We'll celebrate this. We're going to be excited about this but our students are the center point and that's where our focus has to be," he said. "The more we can track, communicate and get them into class, we'll continue to improve more."

Wright explained that his school has a program that allows students to spend extra time with teachers at lunch period, during which they can receive tutoring, take missed tests, or study.

He also noted that counselors are in place to ensure that students are making headway in earning the credits they need and graduating on time.

KOB-TV's Blair Miller reports that the graduation declines were more prevalent among immigrant students (25% decrease), the African American population (3.3% decrease), and Asian high-schoolers (6.5% decrease). Caucasian students' rates dropped by 2.1%.

Albuquerque Public Schools, the state's largest district, did have five high schools that improved graduation rates — Albuquerque, Cibola, Manzano, Rio Grande, and Sandia.

Slightly over half of English language learners graduated last year, while low-income pupils had a 54.8% graduation rate. Native American high school students saw only 45.5% of their demographic graduating in APS and African Americans graduated at a rate of 60%, according to Kim Burgess of the Albuquerque Journal.

Stephanie Ly, president of American Federation of Teachers New Mexico, said:

"Dangerous sound bite policies pursued by Secretary Skandera and Governor Martinez have simply created chaos in our schools and further distract from student learning."

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