Four-year high school graduation rates have hit a high in Maryland, largely spurred by significant gains among Hispanic students, according to newly released state data for the Class of 2013.
Nearly 85 percent of students in Maryland earned a diploma on time in 2013, up from 83.6 percent in 2012. The graduation rate for Hispanic students jumped more than 2.5 percentage points in one year, rising from 72.5 percent to 75.1 percent. It was the largest percentage gain among all racial and ethnic subgroups.
Hispanic advocates and education experts said the state improvements are laudable, but they also said more needs to be done to narrow gaps in educational achievement between Hispanic and other students. Even with the improvement, Hispanic students still lag behind the state’s black, white and Asian students.
“This is the kind of progress that is needed for the future of the entire country,” said Thomas A. Saenz, the president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a national advocacy organization for Latinos. “But this is just one indicator of measuring whether students are college- and career-ready.”
The gains made by Hispanic students reflect those across the country as more Hispanics graduate on time. Federal education estimates last year showed that the graduation rate nationally was at its highest point in 40 years and that Hispanic students had made a 10 point jump in just five years, to 71.4 percent.
Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery said she thinks Maryland’s Dream Act, which provides an in-state tuition discount to undocumented college students, has made a difference, encouraging students to finish school and seek higher education. Voters approved the referendum in November 2012.
“That hope, that at the end of the day they can still go to college and university, is something we didn’t have before the Dream Act was passed in Maryland,” Lowery said Tuesday.
In Prince George’s County, the graduation rate for Hispanic students rose 3.6 percentage points, to 60.8 percent.
“That was a population that we were really targeting, so I’m happy about that,” Prince George’s Chief Academic Officer A. Duane Arbogast said. “We have spent a lot of energy making sure they find school valuable and that college is something they aspire to.”
Arbogast said he was pleased with the progress the county as a whole made over last year, with fewer students dropping out and more earning diplomas. The new figures showed 74.1 percent of Prince George’s high school students graduated within four years, up 1.3 percentage points. But the county still remains 10 points behind the Maryland statewide average.
Arbogast attributed the improvements to the school district’s efforts to identify and provide support to students who are at risk of dropping out of school.
“The data would indicate that that is paying off,” he said.
Montgomery County’s overall rates inched up in each of the past two years, with an increase of a little less than a percentage point in 2013, to a rate of 88.3 percent. It saw an uptick of 1.3 percentage points in 2012.
The school district’s graduation rate for African Americans increased to 83.9 percent, jumping 1.6 percentage points in one year; the rate for Hispanics rose to 77.5 percent, a 0.8 percentage point increase.
“We are making steady progress in our efforts to narrow performance gaps,” Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said in a statement. “But we know that there is still much work to be done to ensure that every student graduates on time and is ready for college and for the work place.”
Across the state, graduation rates for the Class of 2013 jumped 1.4 percentage points. But the new figures show more marked increases among some student groups.
The rate for African Americans rose by 1.8 percentage points, to 78.3 percent; the rate for white students improved 0.6 percentage points, to 91.1 percent; and the rate for Asian students increased by 1.6 percentage points, to 95 percent.
Among special education students, the four-year graduation rate increased by more than 2.5 percentage points, to 60 percent.
Laura Perna, a professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania School of Education, said Maryland still needs to pay attention to improvements across student groups.
“It’s good news that the high school graduation rate among Hispanics has increased, but it still is considerably below the average,” Perna said. “We have to continue to look at gaps across groups.”
An increase in student success also was reflected in new figures on Maryland dropout rates. For the first time, they dipped below 10 percent, reaching 9.4 percent for the Class of 2013.
In Prince George’s, the dropout rate went down, but it remains about double the state average. The dropout rate fell by 1.3 percentage points, to 18.5 percent.