Gaps of the day: Graduation rates


It’s time to move beyond test scores. While the examination of racial and income gaps in scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress raised one warning sign of equity problems, it’s easy both to overinterpret test scores and to write them off. Let’s turn to a more concrete equity gap: high school graduation rates.

(Data from the U.S. Department of Education)

This is the most recently available data on four-year graduation rates in the United States by race. As a starting point, let’s quickly check it against our test score trends.

Trend 1: Minnesota has one of the ten largest gaps in the country.

More than true, this is the first area where Minnesota can genuinely be said to have the largest equity gap in the country. More on this in a bit.

Trend 2: D.C. has the highest gap in the country.

Not true, per the point above. D.C. pulls the Number 2 slot for Hispanic-white graduation gaps, and has the third biggest gap for black-white gaps.

Trend 3: Concerns about equity should include performance as well as gap size.

This is still a relevant concern. Consider the difference between Vermont and Hawaii in black-white gaps, for example.

For Minnesota, however, there’s not a lot of good news here. We have some of the lowest four-year graduation rates in the country for both Hispanic and black students. The six-year graduation rate picture is better at an absolute level (i.e. we have higher six-year graduation rates than we do four-year rates), but right now we don’t have the data we need to make a fair comparison between states on that measure. In any case, graduating from high school in four years should be possible for many more of our black and Hispanic students than is currently the case.

Whatever your feelings about the validity of test scores, this is an equity gap that should concern you. A lack of a high school diploma has real, long-term consequences for students. When barely half of our Hispanic students and less than half of our black students get that diploma in four years (and too many never do), that’s unacceptable.

Minnesotans need to recognize this equity gap and be ready to grapple with it. We can (and do!) disagree fiercely about what the underlying causes are and how to address them, but we should all be able to agree that this is an equity problem in our state.