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Contrary to what many may think, Mississippi is not at the bottom of all data sets when it comes to high school graduation rates. According to a new report by Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, during the 2014-15 school year, the difference between the graduation rates of black and white students in the state was one of the smallest in the country. Between the 2010-11 and 2014-15 school years, Mississippi’s progress on narrowing the black/white graduation gap placed it among the nation’s top ten states.

Credit: Source: “Building a Grad Nation”

But that’s not to say the state isn’t dealing with persistent challenges in getting its students to graduate. What follows is a look at how Mississippi is doing compared with the rest of the country, based on data from the 2017 “Building a Grad Nation” report. The report uses the adjusted cohort graduation rate, calculated by determining the percentage of students in a cohort who graduate within four years, while accounting for students who leave the cohort or join during those four years. A cohort is the number of first-time ninth graders in a school year.

  • Mississippi’s adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) in the 2014-15 school year for all student groups was 75.4 percent, compared to the national average of 83.2 percent. Among student groups, this rate varied from 30.7 percent for students with disabilities to 85 percent for students identified as Asian/Pacific Islanders. Nationwide, the average ACGR for students with disabilities was 64.6 percent and the ACGR for Asian/Pacific Islanders was 90.2 percent.
  • Mississippi is one of four states that graduated less than half its students with disabilities during the 2014-15 school year. (We’ve written about the various challenges the state has when it comes to serving its students with disabilities. Mississippi’s practice of handing out poorly-regarded alternate diplomas to these students makes it one of the worst in the nation for fostering achievement among this group. A learning disability does not necessarily preclude a student from mastering a general education curriculum. Our 2014 investigation found that students who receive these “diplomas” are often unable to find jobs and enroll in higher education; many employers, colleges and universities fail to recognize the diplomas as an adequate sign of high school completion.)
  • More than 78 percent of non-graduates in the state are low-income. Only eight states, including Louisiana and California, have a higher percentage of low-income non-graduates than Mississippi.
  • Mississippi has the highest percentage of non-graduates who are black, at nearly 57 percent. Louisiana is close behind with 56 percent.
  • Between the 2010-11 and 2013-14 school years, Mississippi’s ACGR increased from 73.7 percent to 75.4 percent, a nearly 2 percentage point change. That is more change than that seen in 10 other states, but less change than in most states in the country.
  • The difference between the ACGR of white and black students in Mississippi is 7.4 percentage points. That’s promising, but keep in mind the rates for both student groups are lower (79.4 percent vs. 72 percent, respectively) than the national average (83.2 percent), which means there’s room to grow for both student groups. Wisconsin has the highest percentage point difference, with a nearly 30-point gap between black and white students. Nine states have a smaller percentage point difference than Mississippi; the state count includes Alabama, which may have inflated its graduation rates, according to a 2016 federal audit and investigation.
  • There is an 11.4 percentage point difference in ACGR for white and Hispanic students in Mississippi. The state is tied with Michigan for the 15th highest gap in the country.

For more data points and policy recommendations, check out the full report here.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about Mississippi.

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