- Associated Press - Thursday, June 4, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico ranks well below the national average in graduating students with disabilities with a regular high school diploma, according to a new study.

The annual “Diploma Count” report by Education Week released Thursday showed that New Mexico graduated around 42 percent of students with disabilities with a regular diploma in 2013 compared with the national average of 65 percent.

In addition, the report said close to 25 percent of the state’s students with disabilities dropped out of high school that year. Nationally, around 17 percent of students with disabilities dropped out of high school.

The study, entitled “Next Steps: Life After Special Education,” explores the experiences of students with disabilities, who are coming of age at a time when all high school students are facing new testing requirements. It analyzed data from 2005 to 2013 based on U.S. Department of Education numbers.

“Despite the significant progress witnessed during the past generation, students with disabilities continue to face significant hurdles as they follow their paths through school and beyond,” said Christopher Swanson, vice president of editorial projects in education, the nonprofit organization that publishes Education Week.

Federal numbers show the overall graduation rate for students with disabilities in New Mexico is 60 percent, just under the national average of 62 percent.

Art Terrazas, director of government affairs of the Virginia-based American Counseling Association, said the report should prompt New Mexico residents to demand more resources for students with disabilities.

“As a native New Mexican, I’m embarrassed and I’m angry,” said Terrazas, who is from Anthony, a small city just north of El Paso, Texas.

Terrazas said his organization recently sent Gov. Susana Martinez a letter asking her to dedicate a small percentage of unused state funds to the Development Disabilities Waivers program - which provides caregivers and counselors for children with special needs.

The report also revisited overall graduation rates nationwide released in March and highlighted New Mexico’s large growth in high school graduation rates - among the highest in the nation.

The state’s graduation rate increased from 63 percent during the 2010-11 school year to 70 percent in 2013, according to federal numbers. Only Alabama and Nevada saw higher growth rates during the period.

New Mexico’s 7 percent growth was more than three times the national average in growth, the report said.

However, New Mexico’s 70 percent graduation rate is still among the lowest in the country. Only Oregon and the District of Columbia had a lower rate.

Nationally, the graduation rate reached a high of 81 percent in 2013.

New Mexico Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said the report confirmed that the state is making progress at tackling its dropout rate.

“We’re on the right track but we still have a lot of work to do,” Skandera said. “Three out of 10 students still are not graduating. That’s unacceptable.”

Skandera said state officials hope to see more improvements after new money is set aside for social workers in middle schools and intervention programs for at-risk third graders.

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Follow Russell Contreras at http://twitter.com/russcontreras .

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