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Minneapolis posts steady gain in grad rate

Posted by: Steve Brandt under People and neighborhoods, Politics and government, Minneapolis Edison, Minneapolis Henry, Minneapolis North, Minneapolis Roosevelt, Minneapolis South, Minneapolis Southwest, Minneapolis Washburn Updated: February 19, 2014 - 5:39 PM

Led by a stronger graduation showing by its Indian, black and Latino students, Minneapolis Public Schools posted its second straight year of steady gains in its four-year graduation rate.

What's notable for the district is not simply the overall increase in its graduation rate from 51.8 percent in 2012 to just under 54 percent this year, a magnitude of increase that tracked the statewide increase from 77.5 to 79.5 percent

Rather, what's significant is that much of the growth was posted by Indian students, who jumped from 26.9 percent graduating in four years to 33.7 percent; black students, who rose from 38 to 43.6 percent; and Latino students, whose graduation rate grew from 37 to 41.3 percent.

Meanwhile, Asian students held virtually steady at 68 percent, while white student graduation actually fell slightly to 72.1 percent, a 1.2 percentage point drop.

Still Michael Goar, the district's chief executive office, hailed the gains as a sign that district strategies and more effective teaching are beginning to pay off. He predicted bigger gains for this year's graduating class after a revamping of how high school students regain credits missed earlier and an expansion in district support programs for students. The district is also focusing its new student achievement office on improving results for black male students.

Now, he said, “People believe that we can do it.  This is a positive sign.  Sometimes I feel like we have a belief gap.” 

The news of gains among Indian students is particularly encouraging for the district, given years of trying different approaches to raising the academic standing of the district's lowest-performing racial group.  Black student gains are particularly important for the district, given that they represent the largest district's racial-ethnic block of students.

Propelling the gain in black graduation rates were Henry, where black graduation in four years rose from 50.7 percent in 2012 to 68.7 percent in 2013, Southwest, where it rose from 52.2 percent to 78 percent; and Washburn, where the increase went from 53.7 percent to 62.5 percent.

Yet the district was held back in further gains overall by low success in graduating students in more than a dozen alternative schools, where only 15 percent of students graduate in four years. In some ways, it's penalized for taking students not making it in other districts. That's one key difference from St. Paul, which boasts a higher graduation rate  About 20 percent of Minneapolis alternative school students arrive from other districts, and about half of those are seniors who have earned few credits, the district said.

Minneapolis has now increased its graduation rate by 5.5 percentage points in the last two years, That's twice the 2.7 percentage gain over the past two years posted by students statewide.  But St. Paul recorded an eight percentage point gain over two years to stand at 73.3 percent.

Since 2003, the Minneapolis graduation rate has risen from 39 percent to this year's 54 percent, adjusted for federally mandated changes in methods for calculating that rate.

The Minneapolis results include the district's seven big high schools, a smaller immigrant-focused high school known as Wellstone, and its bevy of much smaller alternative high schools. The graduation rate rose for four of the seven big schools, while two fell and one stayed virtually even.

Washburn (63.6 percent) led the gainers at 10.9 percent points, followed by Henry (77.7 percent) with a 9.3 percentage point gain, then Edison (55.9 percent) with a 4.4 percentage point gain, and Southwest (81.1 percent) with a 1.2 percent gain. North 36.8 percent), which is phasing out one academic program by 2015 while adding another, recorded the sharpest drop at 7.3 percentage points. South (70.2 percent) fell by 4,4 percentage points, and Roosevelt (49 percent) held virtually even.

Among subgroups of students, those with limited English skills increased their graduation rate by 6.3 percentage points to 44.3 percent, special education students gained by 5.6 percentage points to 24.9 percent, and low-income students gained by 1.8 percentage points to 44.2 percent percent.

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