ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The percentage of New Mexico students who graduate high school is holding steady at 71 percent, and state education officials said they were particularly encouraged that the rate among Hispanic students has climbed more than 10 percent since 2011.
Public Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski released the latest statistics Friday, saying there have been improvements for the state’s Hispanic, black, low-income and disabled students.
The graduation rate for Hispanic students in 2011 was less than 60 percent. State numbers show that rate continued its upward trajectory in 2017 and now stands at nearly 71 percent. Hispanic students make up more than 60 percent of the state’s student population.
Overall, 500 more students graduated in New Mexico during the last school year than the previous year, officials said.
“This is important progress for our kids, and shows how important it is that we remain committed to meaningful reform - so that every kid, no matter their background, has a chance to succeed in life,” Gov. Susan Martinez said in a statement.
The state has long ranked near the bottom of national graduation rate statistics. It marked an all-time high in 2016 when it first recorded an overall 71 percent graduation rate.
The national graduation rate stands at more than 80 percent.
Ruszkowski said in an interview Friday that unlike some other states, New Mexico requires students to demonstrate a certain level of competency in their subjects as opposed to simply collecting credit hours, or what he called “seat time.”
“We want to be on the rise, but we want to make sure that we’re raising the bar and we’re being honest with kids when we hand them that diploma, that the diploma means something,” he said.
Education reforms have long pitted teachers, unions and some Democratic politicians against the Republican governor. In the legislative session that just ended, New Mexico lawmakers and the governor opted to funnel more money toward education and teacher pay.
Ruszkowski said that compensation along with rewards for high performance will help to recruit and retain the best teachers.
The Public Education Department also highlighted other programs the agency believes will help improve the graduation rate, including hiring more school personnel called “coaches” to focus on keeping students in school and reducing truancy.
The department also has provided training to some schools around the state to implement systems for monitoring students’ academic, disciplinary and attendance history to determine whether they might need special attention.
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