SANTA FE, N.M. – New Mexico’s statewide average high school graduation rate slipped to 63 percent last year, but the Public Education Department said earlier this month it had changed the graduation calculation to meet a federal mandate.
Students are tracked from the time they are freshmen and the latest figures show that not quite two-thirds of the class of 2011 received diplomas in four years, according to the department. The average graduation rate was 67.3 percent for the class of 2010 and 66.1 percent in 2009, but those were based on a slightly different methodology.
The latest rate includes some students who previously could be excluded from the calculation because they might need more time to graduate, such as those who were disabled, pregnant, jailed or had a significant medical emergency. The calculation change was made to comply with a federal requirement for states to use a similar yardstick for measuring graduation, which will allow for more accurate state-to-state comparisons.
Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said the latest rate provides a “much more accurate picture of what’s happening in our state.”
She acknowledged the methodology change could partly account for the drop in the statewide graduation rate, but said that wasn’t an excuse for the reduction and the latest figures underscored the need for school improvements.
“All of our students should graduate. That’s what we aim for and that’s our goal,” Skandera said in an interview.
Despite the calculation change, she said, there were graduation increases in 44 of New Mexico’s 89 school districts.
“We’re seeing some improvement. We know it’s possible, and ... our charge is to keep seeing each district improve on their grad rate,” Skandera said.
She pointed out the Artesia school district’s graduation rate rose nearly 10 percentage points, reaching 79.4 percent last year, and that the Ruidoso and Pojoaque Valley districts each showed improvements of more than 8 percentage points.
The state’s largest district, Albuquerque Public Schools, had a graduation rate of 63.4 percent last year, down from 64.7 percent in 2010.
The latest figures continued to reflect a gap in educational achievement for racial and ethnic minorities. The graduation rate was 73.2 percent for Caucasian students last year, 59.3 percent for Hispanics, 56 percent for American Indians and 60.1 percent for African Americans. All of those dropped from 2010.
There also is a strong gender gap in graduation rates, with 67.8 percent of female students getting their diplomas in four years but only 58.6 percent of males. Seventy-two percent of female students graduated in the class of 2010 and 62.8 percent of males.