Other’s Opinion: Make a bigger push to improve grad rates

Published 5:14 pm Tuesday, April 9, 2024

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Minneapolis Star-Tribune March 29

Minnesota’s high schools need to keep working on attendance issues, struggling students.

The slight decrease in Minnesota’s 2023 high school graduation rates shows that more must be done to improve student achievement and attendance. And the state and school districts should strive to keep better track of summer graduates and those who leave the districts where they started secondary school.

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According to results released this week by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), about 83.3%, or 58,293, students graduated in 2023. That’s a 0.3 percentage point decrease in the four-year graduation rate compared to the class of 2022.

Also in 2023, another 3,874 students from earlier classes received their diplomas — graduating between five and seven years after they began high school.

The small decrease in the total graduation rate was partly driven by a 0.4% increase in the unknown rate, which tracks students “who were either incorrectly reported or were not reported as enrolled elsewhere,” the MDE news release explained. In addition, both Minneapolis and St. Paul reported that their summer graduates were not included in the MDE report. (MDE says the districts did not include those students in data they sent to the state.)

Yet even when those summer students were included, both districts still had lower grad rates than the year prior. That highlights the need for schools to keep track of every student and make sure they’re included in future state assessments. Clearly the state and districts must do a better job of coordinating and reporting student data.

The graduation data shows small decreases in graduation rates for Black, Asian, Latino and English-learner student groups. Still, it’s an encouraging trend that, while grad rates for Black students declined from a large increase in 2022, the five-year trend for the student group is still trending up — from 69.9% in 2019 to 72.1% today.

Other positives: Graduation rates increased slightly for white students and for children of two or more races.

Another factor that has likely contributed to the dip in grad rates is that just over 30% of the state’s students missed 10% or more of the 2021-22 school year — double the chronic absenteeism rate pre-pandemic.

As a result, welcome efforts are underway to establish a legislative work group to study chronic student absenteeism and how to improve attendance as well track students.

Khalique Rogers, co-director of the St. Paul-based Center for School Change, said in an email his group’s research shows that building on student skills, energy and interest can also increase grad rates. Engaging students in service learning and more hands-on vocational learning — such as helping youth learn construction skills as they build homes for low-income families — can boost graduation rates.

Educators can also place more focus on students who need extra attention. Richfield High School officials found that, by tracking student progress regularly, they can intervene quickly to offer extra help such as tutoring. The school also encouraged their students to start college prep by offering more advanced courses. Those efforts proved successful: In 2022, 90% of Black students and 89% of Latino students graduated on time — up about 15 and more than 20 percentage points, respectively, from the three years before.

To improve graduation rates, attendance and overall achievement throughout Minnesota schools, more must be done to get data collection in order and target struggling students for additional attention.