December 2, 2012

Our View: Maine high schoolers get diplomas galore

Being able to weigh student retention policies against other states’ will help even more teens.

"We’re No. 10! We’re No. 10!”

click image to enlarge

This June 2008 file photo shows the Portland High School graduation at Merrill Auditorium at City Hall in Portland. Maine's high school graduation rate ranks 10th in the nation, according to the first data released by the U.S. Department of Education that uses the same standard for all states.

Press Herald file photo/Tim Greenway

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 ever 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 4 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 GED diplomas 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, and meet with parents and develop individual plans to help the 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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