LAS CRUCES – The New Mexico Public Education Department released its 2021 graduation results on Thursday, revealing that the state’s graduation has remained steady during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2021 four-year graduation rate for all New Mexico high school seniors was 76.8 percent, a “statistically insignificant change” from the 76.9 percent rate in spring 2020. Both are improvements from 2019’s rate of 75 percent.
“This is the cohort that graduated in the middle of the pandemic, and that’s one of the things that makes this data so important,” said Public Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus during a media roundtable. “This is really great news. I’m very excited about it, because we beat what the experts were saying there are experts around the country who were predicting great decreases in graduation rates because of the pandemic.”
New Mexico’s five-year graduation rate for the 2020 cohort improved 3.4 points to 81.7 percent. A PED news release noted the 2021 graduation rates of several student subgroups, including students with disabilities, Asian students, Black students, female students and economically disadvantaged students, also increased relative to 2020.
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Out of 26 states nationwide that have recently announced 2021 graduation rates, New Mexico is one of six that did not report a significant drop.
At least 20 states saw a dip. Illinois, Oregon and North Dakota had 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, according to the PED news release from Thursday afternoon.
With New Mexico’s graduation rate staying stable, there was a blend of higher and lower graduation rates.
Out of the top 10 largest school districts, four reported an increase — Albuquerque, Gadsden, Farmington and Clovis — and six reported a decrease — Las Cruces, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Gallup, Hobbs and Roswell.
PED pointed to Clovis Municipal School District, the 10th largest district, which had a large improvement from 2020 to 2021. The district’s 2021 graduation rate of 77.9 percent is 7.5 percent higher than the year before.
Clovis High School Principal James Brady spoke at the PED press roundtable. He said the district was diligent in providing access to online learning and Wi-Fi to students and held multiple trainings for teachers to help them with Google Classroom. However, he owed the improvement in part to a focus on social-emotional learning and community outreach.
“As we would press on kids and not lower the bar or keep to the level of rigor that we needed to — what was the emotional distress that created not only on the student, but as well as the families that were in our community?” Brady said. “We hired SEL subs and these people were reaching out consistently through the phone, email, trying to reach families. Our teachers were calling families are and their students religiously. Our counselors had databases for every student in every grade level that we had. And we kept the contact log and intervention sheet of everything.”
He added that in the transition from online to in-person, Clovis kept that outreach and communication going at the same rate, scheduling meetings and home visits under COVID-19 guidelines.
Here’s a sample of school district graduation rates and their changes from 2020:
- Albuquerque percent 75.7 percent — 1.1 percent increase
- Las Cruces 81 percent — 5.2 percent decrease
- Gadsden 83.3 percent — 1.1 percent increase
- Hatch Valley 84.8 percent — 4.4 percent increase
- Carlsbad 67 percent — 4 percent decrease
- Deming 72.2 percent — 2.8 percent decrease
- Silver City 81.5 percent — 1.1 percent increase
- Santa Fe 83.8 percent — 2.5 percent decrease
- Rio Rancho percent 87.1 percent — 1.2 percent decrease
- Farmington 78.7 percent — 1.3 percent increase
- Gallup 77.2 percent — 1.2 percent decrease
- Hobbs 84.1 percent — 1.3 percent decrease
- Roswell 66.8 percent — 5 percent decrease
Deputy Secretary Gwen Perea Warniment said quite a few districts have been using equitable grading alternatives. The goal behind equitable grading is to give students an opportunity to progress, even if they miss a couple of assignments, which was a big issue during online learning.
Some districts have a scale with the lowest possible score being 50 percent, to balance the grading scale. A standard grading scale is heavily weighted toward failing. Other districts use a pass/fail method.
Warniment said that the PED has been offering some professional development courses to districts with guidance on implementing equitable grading.
“When you have an inequitable grading process, and you have an abundance of zeros, they just steamroll and effect an impact the student and their family in a negative way that it feels almost impossible to actually dig out of a hole,” she said.
Warniment said the PED has not compiled a comprehensive list of how many districts have implemented equitable grading, so it’s difficult to determine if or how it affected graduation rates.
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There is no state requirement for an equitable grading scale.
“I’m very humbled and excited about the school districts that have taken this up as part of the work because it’s interesting and difficult work that involves all educators coming to the table and having some difficult conversations around what this means,” Warniment said. “Equitable grading at its heart is conversations among educators around how we evaluate students and student performance.”
Equitable grading has been a highly debated topic over the past year.
Some say that it’s too lenient on students, others say it’s an option that should have been implemented years ago.
Cuba Independent Superintendent Karen Sanchez Griego said that equitable grading has made an impact for her district, and they have been learning more about what it means to quantify lear. In Cuba, they have been working with a pass/fail system.
“The reason that there’s higher graduation rates, at least in Cuba and probably across the state, is because of the fact that we truly are looking at equitable education in different ways,” Sanchez Griego saod. “If kids have to work, and they’re supporting their families, why do they have to be sitting in that classroom?”
She said that growing up in southern Albuquerque, there were inequities in her education, and different grading methods is just one way to try and combat inequities.
“That’s part of us working with our colleagues to understand, what does it look like in the 21st century and educating kids?” Sanchez Griego said.
Miranda Cyr, a Report for America corps member, can be reached at email@example.com or @mirandabcyr on Twitter. Show your support for the Report for America program at https://bit.ly/LCSNRFA.