High school graduation rate ticks up despite proficiency declines

The four-year graduation rate for Minnesota’s class of 2022 is up slightly from 2021, according to newly released data from the Minnesota Department of Education. At 83.55 percent, this is a 0.2 percentage increase from the 2021 graduation rate.

But what does a higher graduation rate mean if math and reading proficiency are going down?

Since 2017, the percentage of high school students able to do math at grade-level has dropped consistently. Reading scores have held fairly constant over the years, but also took a hit in 2022.

Because high school students take the reading Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) in 10th grade and the math MCA in 11th grade, we don’t know exactly how their literacy and numeracy skills measure up upon graduation. But it does take time to move test scores, so we can get a general idea based on assessment results in previous years. In 2021, nearly 59 percent of 11th graders (the class of 2022) could not do grade-level math. For the upcoming class of 2023, nearly 64 percent did not demonstrate math proficiency on the spring 2022 MCA. Pairing these percentages with a rising graduation rate leaves one wondering how many students schools are sending out who are not fully set up for career or college success.

High school graduation is an important milestone, but sending students out of the system with a piece of paper and deficient skills is not the surest recipe for success.

The chart below tracks high school proficiency and the state’s four-year graduation rate since 2013, when the reading MCA was revamped to align with national “Common Core” academic standards. The math MCA was revised in 2011 based on the state’s amended math standards. In 2013, the legislature removed required minimum test scores for a high school diploma.

According to 2019 ACT Research data, 31 percent of Minnesota high school graduates met zero college readiness benchmarks. A 2019 Star Tribune article noted that among the 40,000+ students entering the Minnesota State schools, about a third took at least one remedial course.