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Minnesota's graduation rate increased in 2020, but disparities remain

Last year, 83.8% of high school seniors in Minnesota graduated in four years.

Minnesota’s four-year high school graduation rates continued to climb last spring despite the pandemic hitting the end of the academic year, but racial disparities have persisted.

According to data released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Education, 83.8% of high school seniors in Minnesota, or 56,684 students, graduated in four years in 2020. This continues a steady increase over the past five years, with 82.5% of high school seniors having graduated in four years in 2016.

In 2020, 3,490 students also graduated five, six or seven years after starting high school.

The rate increased despite the onset of COVID-19 causing the end of the school year – from mid-March onwards – to end with distance learning. However, the full impact of the pandemic will likely be seen with the Class of 2021, considering most Minnesota schools were in distance learning for the majority of the 2020-21 school year.

“The class of 2020 graduated while we were all just learning how to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. This was a time of great uncertainty, and the perseverance of our students, educators and families demonstrates their commitment to rise to this moment and reach the end of their pre-K through grade 12 journey,” said MDE Commissioner Heather Mueller in a statement.

“While we have so much to be proud of in Minnesota, we know that we still have work to do to close gaps and increase access, participation and representation to ensure every single student graduates from high school.”

Graduation rates increased from 2019 for most subcategories tracked by MDE. Native American and Alaskan Native students saw graduation rates increase 50.8% to 55.7% this year.

Graduation rates Asian students went from 87.6% to 89.1%, while Hispanic students saw rates increase from 69.9% to 70.4%. For mixed race students, graduation rates increased from 72.3% to 73.5%.

Graduation rates for white students also climbed from 88.7% to 89% last year. 

But graduation rates decreased for Black students in Minnesota, with 69.2% graduating in four years in 2020 compared to 69.9% in 2019.

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Minnesota also lags behind the national average graduation rate for Black students. In 2019, the four-year graduation for Black students nationally was 80%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Minnesota’s drop-out rate for high school students also declined in 2020, going from 4.4% of students to 3.7% of students.

Graduation data from each school year is typically released the following spring. But with a full year of school during the pandemic, the class of 2021 faced unique challenges.

According to the Wall Street Journal, seniors this year had the lowest percentage of assignment completion of grade levels, citing burnout and fatigue. 

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