New Mexico’s graduation rate grows by 3 percentange points in 2018

March 20, 2019

New Mexico’s high school graduation rate increased by nearly 3 percentage points to a record-high 73.9 percent in 2018, the state Public Education Department announced Tuesday. The data show four-year graduation rates rose across every subgroup of students, including Hispanics, Native Americans, students with disabilities and English-language learners.

Santa Fe Public Schools also saw a rise — to 73 percent of students in the class of 2018 from 68.9 percent the previous year.

The statewide increase marks a 20-point rise since the class of 2008, when New Mexico began tracking the rate of high school students who graduate within four years. The calculation for the four-year graduation rate includes partial credits for students who take longer to earn a diploma.

While New Mexico’s graduation rate improved dramatically during former Gov. Susana Martinez’s eight years in office, Public Education Secretary Karen Trujillo, appointed in January, gave credit from the bottom up.

“Schools have figured out tracking mechanisms for following students and making sure they get through the system,” Trujillo said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters. “There’s a focus on making sure every student gets through the system.

“That’s not something that was part of the past administration,” she added. “It’s just good practice and policy at the school and district level.”

Veronica García, superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools, said the local district has a policy requiring every high-schooler who wants to drop out to hold separate meetings with the superintendent, the school principal and the constituent services coordinator.

The administrators offer the student alternative paths to a diploma, García said, such as a vocational track at the Early College Opportunities high school or through a mostly online program at an alternative school called The Academy.

“We have built-in safeguards,” García said. “It’s not easy to drop out. You have to talk to a lot of people. We let students know there are so many options in SFPS for how you can graduate.”

Between May 2017 and May 2018, Santa Fe High School’s four-year graduation rate rose to 75.3 percent from 67.7 percent — a 7.6-point increase — while Capital High School improved to 72.6 percent from 70.4 percent.

The district-chartered Academy for Technology and the Classics had a graduation rate of 87.6 percent in 2018, a drop from 96.4 percent in 2017.

Santa Fe High Principal Carl Marano credited his school’s improvement to staff working to identify freshmen at risk of dropping out.

“Freshman year is make it or break it,” Marano said. “If you start off on the wrong foot and get behind on your credits, it’s a tough road. We try to identify those kids immediately and get them support through tutoring or senior mentors.

“In general,” he added, “they do understand that they want a better life and can do that by putting in a little more work and getting a diploma.”

Among state-chartered high schools in Santa Fe, New Mexico School for the Arts had a graduation rate of 98.1 percent, and Tierra Encantada Charter School’s rate was 86.2 percent. The rate at the MASTERS Program was 81.8 percent, and Monte del Sol Charter School’s rate was 74.5 percent.

Elsewhere in Northern New Mexico, Española’s graduation rate increased to 71 percent in 2018 from 55.5 percent in 2014. Los Alamos continues to have one of the state’s best graduation rates, with 89.4 percent of students graduating in 2018.

Pecos’ graduation rate improved to 86 percent in 2018 from 69.4 percent in 2014. Pojoaque Valley Public Schools also saw a jump over the last five years, to 83.4 percent in 2018 from 74.2 percent in 2014.

Taos’ 2018 graduation rate was 72.3 percent.

According to the Public Education Department, female students across the state graduated at a higher rate than male students — 77.2 percent compared to 70.6 percent. The rate for Caucasian students was 79.3 percent, the data show, while the rate for Hispanics was 73.1 percent and the rate for Native Americans was 65.8 percent.

For the first time, New Mexico also tracked the graduation rate for homeless high school students. The education department said 1,449 homeless students entered high school as freshmen in 2014, and 52.5 percent graduated by the summer of 2018.

Despite its improvements, New Mexico still lags well behind the national average, which was 84.6 percent in 2017, the earliest data available, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Trujillo cautioned against trying to make direct comparisons between states because graduation requirements differ.

Still, she said, she believes the state will continue to close the gap between its four-year graduation rate and the nationwide rate under the new administration of Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has made education one of her top priorities.

“Four years from now, let’s shoot for 80 percent,” Trujillo said. “Our goal would be 100 percent, but we want to see that steady increase.”

García had a similar message for her district.

“Santa Fe Public Schools is definitely moving in the right direction,” she said, “but we’re going to keep the pedal to the metal. I want to see graduation rates above 90 percent. It still concerns me that we have around 25 percent of students who aren’t graduating in four years.”