Public Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus
SANTA FE — New Mexico’s high school graduation rate defied expert predictions of a decline and held steady in 2021 despite the learning challenges posed by a second year of the pandemic, the New Mexico Public of Education Department (NMPED) announced Thursday.
The 2021 four-year graduation rate for all New Mexico high school seniors was 76.8 percent, a statistically insignificant change of a tenth of a percentage point from the 76.9 percent rate in spring 2020, which was a nearly 2-point increase from 2019’s rate of 75 percent.
New Mexico’s five-year graduation rate for the 2020 cohort improved 3.4 points to 81.7 percent. Additionally, the 2021 graduation rates of several student subgroups, including students with disabilities, Asian students, Black students, female students and economically disadvantaged students, increased relative to 2020.
“It’s reassuring that even amid the pandemic’s second year, New Mexico’s overall graduation rate held steady, with many groups seeing improvement,” Public Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus said. “We’re grateful to students, families and educators for the hard work it took to achieve that. Over the next year, we will be working on focused strategies with the goal of improving graduation rates and other student achievement metrics in math and English Language Arts.”
New Mexico’s 2021 graduation rate follows a second challenging school year. Across the country, more students failed classes in fall 2020 as schools continued to struggle with enrollment and attendance. Research has shown that failing even one core class can reduce a student’s chances of graduating high school. That led some education experts to fear a decline in 2021 graduation rates, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
“New Mexico students defied predictions,” Steinhaus said. “Despite the challenges of the pandemic, our students graduated at the same rate as they did in 2020.”
New Mexico’s graduation rate has been trending upward, from 63 percent in 2011 to 77 percent in 2021. In 2020, several months into the pandemic, New Mexico joined most states in adding flexibility to graduation requirements and saw a 2-point improvement – to 77 percent – in the graduation rate.
Nationwide, 2021 high school graduation rates dipped in at least 20 states. Illinois, Oregon and North Dakota saw graduation rates drop 2 points, and Indiana, Maine, Nevada, South Dakota and West Virginia saw declines of at least 1 point. Where rates increased, growth was modest.
Clovis led the state’s 10 largest districts with the biggest year-over-year improvement: The district’s 2021 graduation rate of 77.9 percent is 7.5 points higher than the year before. Two other large districts also showed notable improvement: Farmington increased 1.3 points to 78.7 percent and Albuquerque (the state’s largest district) increased 1.1 points to 75.7 percent.
Graduation requirement waivers were not offered for the 2021 cohort – graduating seniors were required to complete 24 credit hours of prescribed course work and demonstrate competency. The state offers a menu of options to demonstrate competency, including state and national standardized tests and district-specific tools approved by the Public Education Department.
The Public Education Department is focused on improving graduation rates through various evidence-based strategies including extended learning time programs, community schools, expanding career and technical education and work-based learning options, improving attendance, providing social-emotional learning, and expanding behavioral health initiatives and culturally and linguistically responsive instruction.
The Public Education Department calculates the graduation rate for each “cohort” of students who enter high school the same year and are expected to graduate four years later. The cohort of 2021 entered high school in the fall of 2017 and consisted of 25,002 students who were enrolled for one or more semesters during those four years.
The 2020 cohort’s overall four-year graduation rate was 77 percent. When students from the 2020 cohort who graduated in May 2021 after five years in high school are added in, the 2020 graduation rate jumps to 81.7 percent.
In addition to New Mexico’s 2021 high school graduates, 54 students aged 17-18 enrolled in adult education programs in the state completed either the GED or HiSET program and earned a high school equivalency credential during the 2020-2021 school year. Also, according to Higher Education Department data, 523 New Mexicans aged 19 and over received a high school equivalent degree during the 2020-2021 school year.