By Robert Nott | The Santa Fe New Mexican
New Mexico’s high school graduation rate rose to 71 percent in 2016, the highest percentage since the state began tracking four-year rates in 2008, Gov. Susana Martinez announced Monday. The rate jumped 2½ points from the previous year and increased in 48 of the state’s 89 school districts in 2016, including Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Rio Rancho and Santa Fe.
“With more students graduating high school than ever before, New Mexico is better preparing our kids to enter the workforce, college and beyond,” Martinez said at a news conference at the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. The governor used the occasion to again push her plan to end the practice of so- called social promotion — moving students forward to the next grade — for third-graders who cannot read proficiently. The graduation rate for Santa Fe Public Schools in 2016 was 71 percent, up from 66.8 percent in the previous year.
Santa Fe High School’s graduation rate last year was 73 percent — up from 69.9 percent in 2015. Capital High School’s rate was 72 percent, up from 66.4 percent. Results were mixed for state and district charter schools in Santa Fe, with graduation rates ranging from 48 percent to 95 percent in 2016.
In the past few years, Martinez and Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera have touted the increase in the high school graduation rate. It was 63 percent in 2011, the first full year that Martinez was governor.
Charles Goodmacher, spokesman for the National Education Association of New Mexico teachers union, said in a statement Monday, “Increasing New Mexico student graduation rates is happening because New Mexico’s local teachers and other public school employees are doing all we can to increase success rates for the children we serve.”
Since taking office, Martinez has repeatedly tried to convince legislators to pass a law that would prohibit third-graders who can’t read at grade level from being promoted to the next grade. She has argued that those students would have a better chance of succeeding and graduating from high school if they are held back.
Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, has said she will carry a bill for the governor to hold back poorly reading third-graders. The Legislature convenes Tuesday for a 60day session.
The governor also said Monday, the state, while facing a budget crunch, must protect classroom spending that affects student learning. She also said districts should crack down on truancy.
Last week, Martinez called for a sweep of school district reserve funds to help plug a projected $67 million budget gap. School districts oppose the move, arguing they need those savings for emergency contingencies and to pay bills in advance of reimbursements from the federal government, the state and grant providers.
New Mexico has traditionally ranked at or near the bottom in many national education studies, including reports on graduation.
For example, last May, a national report, Building a Grad Nation, said New Mexico’s four-year adjusted graduation rate was 68.5 percent, the worst in the nation. Iowa, at 90.5 percent, had the highest rate.
That report said more than 40 percent of New Mexico’s high schools are graduating fewer than 67 percent of their students, a record equaled only by Alaska. The statistic applies to schools with more than 100 students.
States use a four-year rate, established by the federal government in 2008, to gauge their graduation numbers by tracking a freshman class over the course of four years to its expected graduation date.
Jeff Gephart, communications director for Santa Fe Public Schools, said the district would not comment on the Santa Fe rates released by Martinez until Tuesday, when the district reopens and district personnel can verify the numbers. School districts were closed Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The Academy for Technology and the Classics, a district charter school, had an 84 percent graduation rate in 2016, while the Academy at Larragoite, an alternative district high school offering online learning, had a 50 percent rate, according to the data released Monday.
The graduation rate for the New Mexico School for the Arts, a state charter school, was at 95 percent. Both the MASTERS Program and Monte del Sol Charter School, also state charter schools, hit the 74 percent mark.
Tierra Encantada Charter School, another state charter, saw just 50 percent of its students graduate last year, while the New Mexico Connections Academy, an online state charter, only had 48 percent graduate.
Regionally, Española Public Schools’ graduation rate was 64 percent, the Pecos school district was 57 percent, Pojoaque was 75 percent and Los Alamos 83 percent, according to Public Education Department data.
Albuquerque schools had a 66 percent graduation rate in 2016, a jump of more than 4 points from last year. “It feels like we’ve caught a wave of momentum in our schools and community, and while we’re not anywhere near where we want to be, we’re moving in the right direction,” Albuquerque Public Schools’ Superintendent Raquel Reedy said Monday.