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Posted June 13, 2012

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June 2012: Grad rates improving, albeit slowly

Read the Superintendent’s column that ran in the Albuquerque Journal June 12

Too often in public education, the focus is on the negative – the failures, the shortfalls, the could-do-betters. As I shook the hands last month of thousands of high school graduates crossing the stage on their way to the next chapter in their young lives, I was reminded that we have lots to celebrate as well. 

A few weeks before the Class of 2012 threw their caps in the air, we got news about graduation rates for Albuquerque Public Schools. The overall percentage of students graduating from our schools in four years was admittedly disappointing, certainly not what we are striving for. But a deeper look into the numbers revealed plenty of good news: 

  • 9 out of 12 of our comprehensive high schools saw improved graduation rates.
  • 3 out of 5 of our alternative high schools saw improved graduation rates.
  • Our overall graduation rate is slightly higher than the state average.
  • 8 out of 12 of our comprehensive high schools have better graduation rates than the state average. 

These statistics indicate we’re on the right track and slowly improving. I often say making changes in public education is like turning an ocean liner – it takes a long time and the shifts often are imperceptible. 

The public perception may be that we’re not making progress at all, a notion fueled by the fact that our overall graduation rate actually dropped slightly from 2010 to 2011. How can that be if the vast majority of our schools are improving? The answer is simple: The state Public Education Department, which calculates the graduation rate for school district’s across the state, changed the formula. 

This year for the first time, the graduation rate included the district’s locally-authorized charter schools. Had the charter schools not been included, our rate would have improved by a couple of percentage points. 

I know it can be confusing when we separate APS schools from charters since they’re both supported by tax dollars, but the fact is we have no say in the daily operations of charter schools – not in the curriculum they offer, the teachers they hire, the training they require, the way they teach. Therefore, it’s not unreasonable for us to remove charters from the calculation when we look at how our schools are doing. 

Another change in the grad rate formula is that it no longer counts any student who takes extra time to graduate. This includes those who are pregnant, parenting, incarcerated or in some special education programs. In years past, the formula made exceptions for students in these categories. 

The reality is it does take some students a little longer to get through school. Young parents, students who have struggled with alcohol or drug abuse, those working to support their families or who have faced illness, injury or tragedy often need a little extra time to finish their coursework. We believe in giving students every opportunity to earn their diploma, even if it means taking a little longer. That’s why we have several alternative schools and programs that meet the needs of these students. 

If you count the students who take up to five years to earn their diploma, our graduation rate is nearly 70 percent. In other words, seven out of 10 students are graduating from Albuquerque Public Schools – not just over half which is the statistic that often gets tossed around. 

Bottom line is we want all of our students to graduate, and not all of them are, so we’ll continue to work until we get there. You’ve probably heard me talk about some of our reform efforts. We’re providing teachers with more opportunities to collaborate and address student deficiencies. We’re expanding the AVID program (Advancement via Individual Determination) designed to help students raise expectations and achieve greater success. We’ll continue to extend the day at all of our comprehensive high schools, as well as offer online classes, so students can make up credits before and after school. 

We’ll keep doing everything we can to get more students to graduate, and I’m looking forward to shaking a whole lot more hands at graduation next year.

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