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Graduation Rate Increase Propelled by Latino Achievement

High school graduation rates among Latinos jumped 5.5 points, pushing the national rate to 73 percent.

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The Latino student high school graduation rate climbed to 63 percent, but still lags behind other student groups.
The Latino student high school graduation rate climbed to 63 percent, but still lags behind other student groups.

The nation's high school graduation rate climbed for the second straight year, spurred largely by significant gains among Latino students, according to a report released last week.

"Diplomas Count 2012," an annual report by Education Week, shows graduation rates among Latino students jumped 5.5 percentage points between 2008 and 2009. This improvement helped bump the national graduation rate up 1.7 points to 73 percent for the 2009 graduating class, the most recent data available.

In the top-performing states for Latino students—New Jersey, Florida, and Maryland—graduation rates exceeded 70 percent in 2009, and some majority-Hispanic districts in other states fared even better, the study notes. At Lompoc Unified School District in California, for instance, 89 percent of Latino students earned a diploma in 2009.

[Learn how lower high school dropout rates can boost the economy.]

Despite the strides made, Latino students still have a lot of ground to make up, the Education Week study shows.

Nationwide, only 63 percent of Latino students in the class of 2009 earned a high school diploma, compared with 79 percent of white students and 81 percent of Asian-American students. In Michigan, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Montana, fewer than 50 percent of Latino teens graduated from high school in 2009.

Contributing to the graduation gap between Latino students and their white and Asian-American peers are language barriers and poverty, the report states.

State laws targeting undocumented immigrants can also impact graduation rates in the Latino community by prompting students to drop out or move due to their status or that of a family member. Stress over their status or that of a family member can also lead to poor academic performance, the report states.

Additionally, low education levels in their communities contribute to higher dropout rates among Latino students, experts say.

"With Latinos, children are often living in communities where no one has completed high school or even had contact with high school," Patricia Gándara, a professor at the University of California—Los Angeles and codirector of the university's Civil Rights Project, said in a recent Education Week article.

The lack of parental emphasis on earning a high school diploma, much less going on to college, is one of the reasons Latino students are more likely to drop out of high school, Gándara states.

[Read how public-private partnerships can prevent high school dropouts.]

Nearly 310,000 Latino students will fail to complete high school in 2012, and half of those dropouts will come from California and Texas, the "Diploma Counts 2012" study projects.

Improving achievement rates among Latino students requires education policy reform at the state and local levels, Ana Sol Gutiérrez, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, said at a panel discussion on Latino education last week.

"I'm not really a great believer of the national kind of policies, because they don't really get down to the ground to where the student is and where it needs to happen," said Gutiérrez, who also served on the Montgomery County Board of Education.

But Gutiérrez doesn't see the focus on Latino education currently happening at the state level.

"Policy is fragmented; it's not really focused. More than anything there's almost a reluctance to deal seriously with this population," she said. "Right now I think pulling teeth is easier than really making a difference on our Latino students."

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