Minnesota graduation rate hits 10-year high

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Minnesota graduation rates are the highest the numbers have been in a decade – 79.5 percent of Minnesota high school seniors collected a diploma in 2013, state officials boasted Wednesday.

That compares to 77.6 in 2012. Officials said that year-over-year increase was twice what it had been in the last three years.

Officials also said it was noteworthy that graduation rates improved last year among all student groups, including black students, who went from a 51 percent graduation rate to 56 percent last year; and Hispanic students, who improved from 53 to 58 percent. (Click here to see graduation rates by student group.)

State Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius admitted there was a lot of work left to do to close the achievement gap between white students and minority peers. "We must continue investing in our schools, pursuing meaningful reform and eliminating barriers to graduation so every child succeeds in career and college," she said.

The news comes a week after state officials announced some progress in closing the achievement gap in the state's public schools.

State officials credit several initiatives in the improvement of graduation rates, including the Minnesota Early Indicator and Response System (MEIRS), a tool for districts to identify and support students in grades 6 and 9 who are not on track to graduate. They also said that Minnesota’s waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law has given them more freedom to pursue efforts to target struggling minority students.

Minnesota is also a participant in Grad Nation, a program to increase the overall four-year graduation rate in Minnesota to 90 percent by 2020.

At least one Republican legislator, Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, questioned whether the success comes as a result of the GRAD test, the exam seniors used to be required to pass in order to graduate, the Star Tribune reported. Lawmakers scrapped that test last year in favor of a new test, to be used starting in 2015-2016, that will gauge whether students are prepared for college.

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