December 2, 2012

OUR OPINION: Graduation rate something to cheer about

'We're No. 10! We're No. 10!"

You may not hear that very often at football games, but it rang loud and proud in Augusta last week after the U.S. Department of Education released its tally of high school graduation rates for all 50 states.

The 2010-2011 ranking, the first compiled using the same criteria across the board for how many students graduate after four years of high school, put Maine in the top 20 percent in the nation. That's both an enviable spot to be in and a real accomplishment of which to boast.

And it's more substantial than that, because Maine is only four percentage points off the lead. Iowa came in first, with an 88 percent four-year graduation rate, and Maine had a solid 84.

So, five out of every six ninth-graders who enroll at a public high school in the Pine Tree State walk out four years later with a diploma attesting that he or she is ready to find a job or seek advanced schooling.

The DOE's ranking is especially meaningful because it controls for a variety of standards across all 50 states. Previously, some states had counted students who got GEDs or attended school for five or six years in their graduation rates.

Maine, though, has been using the new standard for three years, so it has a record of consistency to bolster its performance vis-a-vis other states.

And, as specialists pointed out, having the same input across all jurisdictions allows people to compare what works to keep teenagers in school when so many are dropping out for a wide variety of reasons.

Educators can identify at-risk students more easily, meet with parents and develop individual plans to help teens overcome their issues and keep making solid progress.

True, other factors count for kids' well-being, including college acceptance rates, extracurricular activities and the success of special-needs students. But the new report shows Maine is doing well in one key statistic, and that's worth a cheer.

A loud one.

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