High school graduation rates see overall increase in Minnesota

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(ABC 6 News) – Grades are in for school districts across Minnesota, some doing better than others.

This morning the Minnesota Department of Education released its annual report card on graduation rates for the 2021-22 school year. Schools across the state are showing signs of recovery from dips in graduation rates caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Classes of 2022 brought many schools their highest graduation rate since 2019.

The moment of crossing the graduation stage and receiving a diploma, it’s the first steps into a larger world for people and a moment they never forget.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to fewer people experiencing that moment in their lives. At Rochester Public Schools, 85.9% of seniors graduated in 2022, the exact same rate seen in 2019. The graduating classes between these two saw a small dip in RPS graduation rates with 85.6% in 2020 and 83.8% in 2021.

The state’s overall increase from 83.3% in 2021 to 83.6% in 2022 was an encouraging sign to RPS Superintendent Kent Pekel.

“We we’re really pleased in Rochester we saw a 2.1% increase over the previous year which is really significant improvement. This really was a situation in which we saw all kids getting better and the kids who are from groups that were probably impacted most by the pandemic getting better faster,” said Pekel.

Further data from RPS showed that Black students had a 8.9% graduation increase in 2022, Latino students 2.78%, white students 2.22%, students with disabilities 4.56%, and students living in poverty, a 2.23% increase.

Pekel believes this was due to the personal relationships teachers have built up with students and their parents across the district.

“If you are a student who maybe is struggling, but you think Ms. Johnson is going to miss me. It dramatically changes the equation on your desire to keep on keeping on.”

Parents and RPS graduates agreed with Pekel. Sharing many additional factors that made a big difference in the educational experience

“You have to be an active parent,” said Losha Barnes, a mother of two students in RPS. “You have to know what’s going on with your kids. You can’t just take your kids words like if the school called, you have to call. They, I feel like, they feel better when the parents are more active because how else would you know what your kid is doing.”

Avi Misra, a 2019 graduate of the RPS system said, “The public schools does a good job at giving alternative programs for people who learn slower and I also had a lot of access to A.P. classes too, for people who need more honors course.”

While the numbers are positive for RPS now, there’s no crystal ball effect in them telling how many RPS seniors will be graduating in six weeks time.

“One data point is not a trend make. What you want to see is improvement over at least three years because every one is going to have ups and downs,” said Pekel.

As for other school districts across southeast Minnesota, Albert Lea saw a 7% increase in graduation rates from 2021 to 2022. While Austin went in the other direction seeing a 7% decrease in graduates for 2022, their lowest in four years.

ABC 6 News did reach out to Austin Public Schools Officials but they declined to comment at this time.