Published Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012 | 3:50 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012 | 6:01 p.m.
Nevada has the lowest high school graduation rate of any state in the nation, according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Education Department.
The federal government released preliminary four-year graduation rate data for 47 states, Washington, D.C., and the Bureau of Indian Education for the 2010-11 school year. Three states — Idaho, Kentucky and Oklahoma — and Puerto Rico were not included in the list because they received extensions to file their graduation data.
Nevada posted a 62 percent graduation rate during the 2010-11 school year. The Silver State’s graduation rate was the lowest of any state but slightly better than Washington, D.C., (59 percent) and students on Native American reservations (61 percent).
The federal data also illuminates striking achievement gaps among Nevada students of different backgrounds.
White and Asian students had higher graduation rates than black and Hispanic students, sometimes by a margin of 30 percentage points.
In fact, Nevada had the second-largest disparity in graduation rates between black and white students in the country (28 percentage point gap), surpassed only by Minnesota (35 percentage point gap).
Here are the graduation rates for different student subgroups in Nevada:
• Alaska Native/Native American: 52 percent
• Asian/Pacific Islander: 74 percent
• Black: 43 percent
• Hispanic: 53 percent
• Multiracial: 80 percent
• White, non-Hispanic: 71 percent
• Children with disabilities: 23 percent
• Limited English-proficient students: 29 percent
• Economically disadvantaged students: 53 percent
Iowa had the best graduation rate (88 percent); followed by Vermont and Wisconsin (87 percent); then Indiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas (86 percent).
Joining Nevada at the bottom of the rankings were Alaska and Oregon (68 percent), Georgia (67 percent) and New Mexico (63 percent).
For the first time, the survey used a common method of calculating graduation rates. Previously, states used different methods to determine graduation rates, which made it difficult to make accurate state-by-state comparisons.
The federal government now requires that states use the “cohort” graduation rate calculation, which tracks how many first-time ninth-graders finish high school in four years with a standard diploma.
Previously, many states, including Nevada, used less accurate calculations that didn’t factor in students who transferred or dropped out of school.
“By using this new measure, states will be more honest in holding schools accountable and ensuring that students succeed,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. “Ultimately, these data will help states target support to ensure more students graduate on time, college and career ready.”
Nevada Superintendent Jim Guthrie commended the federal government for moving toward a more uniform and rigorous method of calculating the graduation rate. Nevada was one of 26 states that saw a drop in its graduation rate as a result of moving to the "cohort" calculation.
"You can't solve your problems if you don't know what they are," said Guthrie, who is seven months into his new position. "We need accurate information, and more of it. I'm glad to have this because now we can better address our problems."
Nevada's low graduation rate can be explained by the state's high dropout rate. Every 11 minutes of every school day, a student drops out of a Nevada school, Guthrie said.
In fact, Clark County — which educates the vast majority of Nevada's children — was named a dropout epicenter last year by Education Week.
This dual problem of low graduation and high dropout rates stems from a lack of motivation by students, Guthrie said.
"For too long, students could drop out and get a high-paying, low-skilled job," Guthrie said, referring to the oft-mentioned well-paid casino parking valet or dealer. "But those low-skilled, high-paying jobs are being eroded."
To remain in the middle class in this new global information economy, Nevada's youths must graduate high school and pursue post-secondary opportunities, Guthrie said.
"The way to a productive life is to stay in school," he said. "Youngsters in Las Vegas don't realize they're competing globally against youngsters in Shanghai."
To reach the average graduation rate of 80 percent nationally, Nevada must graduate an additional 6,000 students each year, Guthrie said. That's a tall order, but there are several state and local efforts aimed at boosting the number of graduates, he added.
Guthrie is encouraging some 6,000 high school teachers in the state to "adopt" a struggling student and mentor them toward graduation.
The state also is looking at expanding the Jobs for America's Graduates program, currently at eight Nevada high schools. For about $70,000 a year per high school, the program allows a special counselor to work with about 40 at-risk students to help them graduate high school with a job.
In Clark County last year, Superintendent Dwight Jones launched a mentoring program, held several community walks and door-to-door home visits to dissuade students considering dropping out of school. Those efforts have continued this year.
"For too long, education in Nevada has been a stepchild," Guthrie said. "It's time to change that."