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MN high school grad rate highest in decade

ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s graduation rate is the highest it’s been in at least a decade with all groups of students showing gains in 2013.

Data from the Minnesota Department of Education released Wednesday shows 79.5 percent of high school seniors earned high school diplomas, up from 77.5 percent the year before. African-American and Hispanic students posted some of the biggest gains among student subgroups along with students learning English and students living in poverty.

“To see this kind of growth in just one year is remarkable,” Brenda Cassellius, state education commissioner, said during a Capitol press conference. “We just are so proud of our school districts, we’re proud of our teachers and our principals who are paying attention to every single kid.”

Nearly 57 percent of black students and 58 percent of Hispanic students earned diplomas last year about a 10 percentage point climb from 2010. Overall graduation rates grew by about 4 percentage points during that same time.

Cassellius said some of the growth can be attributed to the education department counting more students. In past years, districts had to have at least 40 students in a specific sub-group in order to report that group’s results. This year, the threshold has been lowered to 10 students.

The increase comes a year after state lawmakers eliminate the Graduation Required Assessment for Diploma, or GRAD, which students had to pass in reading, writing and mathematics. Cassellius said she didn’t believe the latest graduation numbers were affected by the removal of that test.

But Republican lawmakers and members of the business community said the growth in graduation rates was proof the GRAD was working. They argue removing the test lowers the standard students must reach to get a high school diploma.

State Rep. Kelby Woodard, R-Belle Plaine, said more students completing high school is the result of a decade of bipartisan work to improve school standards and accountability. Some of those improvements were lost when DFL lawmakers took control of the state house.

“I think it takes us in the opposite direction,” Woodard said.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.