Martinez hails 7 point jump in NM high school grad rate

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RIO RANCHO, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico's four-year high school graduation rate jumped to 70 percent just a year after federal data showed the state's 63 percent rate was one of the worst in the nation, Gov. Susana Martinez announced Thursday.

Speaking in front of students from Rio Rancho High School, Martinez called the seven-point spike a "mile marker" and said the improvement in just a year's time was evidence that New Mexico schools could provide the needed services to help students graduate.

"While we have a long way to go ... I do believe the schools all across our state have taken on the challenge of keeping our young people in high school," Martinez said. "And I think our students are responding well to the high expectations."

Martinez said the state's "A through F" grading system paired with preventative measures helped schools improve student achievement.

In addition to an overall graduation rate spike, state officials reported that graduate rates also increased for Latino and American Indian students and students with disabilities. For example, Latino students had a graduation rate of 68 percent, an eight point jump from 2011. Meanwhile, Native American students saw a graduation rate of 65 percent and a nine point increase.

Federal 2010-2011 data showed New Mexico with a 63 percent four-year high school graduation rate, one of the worst rates in the nation that year. Only Nevada, the District of Columbia and the Bureau of Indian Education rank below New Mexico on the percentage of all students graduating in four years, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Iowa had the nation's highest with about 88 percent of students graduating.

The 2010-2011 academic year was the first time all states used uniform standards to measure the number of students who graduated.

Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera said New Mexico doesn't know where it ranks nationally with 2012 graduation numbers because not all states' graduation numbers have been submitted to compare. She also said the rates, though more accurate in the past, aren't just a reflection of better record keeping. "It's about great kids, great teaching and great leadership," Skandera said.

Martinez also announced Thursday a new "early warning drop out system" proposal aimed at helping potential high school drop outs. Under the proposal, the system would use current data collected by the Public Education Department on students with low grades and low attendance and use school resources to intervene and create personalized improvement plans.

Martinez said the cost for her proposal would be minimal and would help increase graduation rates even more.

"If we ask the question: 'Is this in the best interest of our children?' Then we can set aside whether we are Republicans or Democrats," said Martinez. "This isn't a Republican and Democrat issue. This is about our kids."