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Maine's High School Graduation Rate on the Rise
01/22/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

Maine's high school graduation rate is on the rise, according to new national numbers released this morning in Washington. The survey - based on 2010 data from the National Center for Education Statistics - shows Maine's on-time graduation rate jumping three points, to 83 percent. Other recent state and fedeal data has shown similar upward progress. Education officials in Maine say the improvement, while good news, doesn't diminish the need for reforms to ensure that the diplomas kids earn actually prepare them for college and work. Jay Field reports.

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The National Center for Education Statistics has been tracking graduation rates in the U.S. for more than 40 years. Seventy-eight percent of students in this latest report received diplomas within four years. That's the best high school completion rate in the nation since 1974.

"Kids are more likely to stay in high school and get a diploma when the economy is bad," says Jack Buckley, the commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics. Buckley says when times are tough there are fewer jobs available that don't require a high school degree.

But Buckley says the economy is probably not the only reason for the improvement. Lots of states, for example, have been pushing reforms to improve teaching and learning at the high school level. And Buckley says efforts to boost student performance in the early grades may be paying off as well.

"Our fourth graders' assessment scores, and our national assessments, are generally up over the longer period," he says. "Kids may actually be getting to high school better prepared."

Buckley says the overall graduation rate across the nation has been rising steadily over the past five years. "Maine's trend follows the country," he says. "Maine's on-time graduation - what we call the AFGR - rate in 2009-10 was about 83 percent. The country as a whole was 78 percent. So Maine is definitely among the higher performing states."

Since he took office, Gov. Paul LePage has warned that the quality of education in Maine's schools must improve if the state is to be more competitive economically.

Education officials say the steady rise in the graduation rate isn't inconsistent with the governor's overall message on education.

"We have one in five of our students still not graduating," says David Connerty-Marin, communications director at the Maine Department of Education.

Connerty-Marin says graduation statistics will mean a lot more when all Maine high schools begin awarding a proficiency-based diploma. "A diploma will be a reflection of whether a student is ready for career or college after high school, rather than simply reflecting a certain amount of time spent in the right number of classes," he says.

All high schools in Maine are required to begin using a proficiency-based diploma by 2018.


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