JACKSON — Mississippi is graduating a greater share of its students in four years than ever before, with 84 percent of public high school seniors earning their diplomas on time last year, the Mississippi Department of Education said Thursday.
The department said the mark for the 2017-2018 is the highest on record in Mississippi, up from 83 percent in 2016-2017 and 74.5 percent in 2012-2013. The state’s graduation rate is equal to the most recently recorded national graduation rate of 84 percent in 2017. More recent national numbers have yet to be released. Educators praised that as a notable achievement for Mississippi, where attainment has long lagged behind the rest of the nation.
The state says only 10.1 percent of seniors dropped out of high school without earning a diploma. The rest remain in school or earned an alternate credential to a diploma.
State Superintendent Carey Wright called the increase “a significant achievement.” She cited several reasons for the improvement, including efforts to expand career and technical education, the increase in the number of Advanced Placement courses and the rollout in some areas of early college high schools that offer dual high school and college credit.
“I think it’s a laser-like focus on instruction,” Wright said. “I think schools are doing a lot more to keep children engaged in and enjoying learning.”
Although more students are persisting to graduation, it doesn’t mean Mississippi has caught up with the rest of the nation educationally. The state has seen notable progress in some test score measures over the last decade, especially in earlier grades. But the most recent measures suggest Mississippi’s eighth graders remain roughly a year behind the national average in learning and its high school students have among the lowest average scores statewide on the ACT college test.
Improvements also have been boosted by changes to graduation requirements. Previously, all students had to pass four subject-area tests in algebra I, biology, English II and U.S. history to graduate. Beginning in 2014, the state Board of Education created alternate paths to graduation including achieving certain scores on the ACT, Advanced Placement exams or the test the U.S. military gives to recruits. The board also allows students to graduate even if they fail the tests but got high enough grades on their classwork. It also allows graduation if students earn a high enough combined score on the four tests, or if they earn at least in a C in a college credit course in the requisite subject.
Statistics show nearly 80 percent of graduates, about 23,500, passed all four tests last year. The remaining 20 percent of graduates, about 6,000, used other options.
Mississippi’s graduation rate for students with disabilities, which has been a severe problem, rose to 38.4 percent last year from 23.2 percent in 2014. About 88 percent of white students graduated, while about 81 percent of black students did so. Almost 89 percent of female students graduated, while about 80 percent of male students did.
Improvements in the state’s graduation rates have leveled out in recent years, but Wright said there’s still room for improvement. About 20 school districts last year graduated less than 75 percent of their students in four years.
“I think everyone wants to see more and more of their children graduate,” Wright said.