Despite rising national graduation rates, low-income and minority students continue to lag behind their peers in finishing high school, according to a study released Wednesday.
While the national graduation rate for the year 2015 was 83.2 percent, it was only 77.8 percent for Hispanic students and 74.6 for black students, said the report by Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University. The report represented an analysis of federal data released in December and policy recommendations.
On the bright side, those students are catching up faster than their peers. Graduation rates have increased 7.6 percentage points for black students and 6.8 percentage points for Latino students since 2011, compared to 3 to 4 percentage points for white students, said Jennifer DePaoli, a researcher with Civic Enterprises and the lead author of the report. The groups behind the report have been leading the GradNation campaign that advocates for a graduation rate of 90 percent by 2020.
"When we look at the big picture, this is good news. We have the highest graduation rates that this country has ever seen," said DePaoli. But for low-income and minority students and students with disabilities, more help is needed. States "are getting stuck with getting certain students across the finish line," DePaoli said.
New Mexico was the worst performing state, with a state-wide graduation rate of 68.6 percent, the only state below the 70 percent mark. Also, 44 percent of New Mexico high schools were low graduation rate schools — schools that have more than 100 students and where the graduation rate is 67 percent or less.
Iowa was the first state to reach a 90 percent graduation rate. Other high-achieving states were Vermont, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Texas, Tennessee and Kentucky.
The graduation rate among students with disabilities was 64.6 percent, a difference of nearly 20 percentage points from the overall rate. Similarly, English language learners had a graduation rate of 65.1 percent.
DePaoli said increased access to early childhood education has been shown to increase academic outcomes, including graduation rates. "States need to focus heavily on equity," DePaoli said. "So many states have focused on increasing their graduation rates, now is the hard part."
Abigail Swisher, an education expert with New America said dual enrollment — allowing students to enroll in college-level courses while still in high school — has been shown to improve graduation rates for underprivileged groups of students.
"We found that the counterintuitive solution would be to actually give them more challenging coursework in the form of opportunities to complete college level work in high school," she said. "When they have this opportunity ... they are more likely to enroll in college and persist with their degree in college as well."