Minnesota 4-year graduation rates slipped in 2023

Kennedy graduates toss their caps into the air.
John F. Kennedy High School graduates toss their caps in the air at the end of commencement in Bloomington.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2016

Updated 9 a.m., April 15 | Posted 12:01 a.m., March 28

The effects of closed schools and isolation due to the pandemic continue to affect Minnesota students. Newly released data released by the state Education Department shows the class of 2023 graduated at a rate of 83.3 percent, down from 83.6 percent for the class of 2022

Part of that dip was driven by an increase in the “unknown rate” — students who were either incorrectly reported or not reported as enrolled elsewhere, the department said in a statement Thursday accompanying the new data. Those students may not be dropouts.

The overall data, though, shows graduation rates for English language learners and some students of color — among  those most disproportionately affected by the pandemic — moving in the wrong direction.

Before the pandemic, Minnesota’s class of 2020 had a record high graduation rate of 83.8 percent. That rate has since fluctuated, falling in 2021 by half a percentage point to 83.3, inching back up in 2022 and falling last year back to where it was in 2021. 

“The major thing that we really need to keep in mind is that the pandemic had a huge effect, and huge impacts, especially for our students of color,” said Julio Caesar, director of research and assessment for Bloomington Public Schools. 

“We are now just starting to see what that impact is on our graduation rates, on the number of classes that students are failing, on the number of attendance days that our students are making it to school,” he added.

Despite years of pandemic-driven challenges, close to 60,000 Minnesota students graduated on a four-year-timeline last year, while nearly 4,000 earned diplomas within five, six or seven years. 

Black students have seen a steady increase in five-year graduation rates since 2019. 

In Bloomington, credit recovery programs are working to help students graduate on a four to seven-year timeline, Caesar said.

He noted the class of 2023 was in ninth grade when the pandemic closed schools. Caesar said he thinks Bloomington and the rest of the state will continue to see graduation rates wobble until students get the support they need in mental health and credit recovery.

“To be honest, I expect these numbers not to really increase much in the next couple of years,” Caesar said. “Until we get into that plateau of when (we get) the resources and the additional help started — especially for students of color — to make sure that we're all back on track.”

Minneapolis Public Schools on Thursday said a reporting error led to incomplete data on the district. “After an internal recalculation, our estimate is that the MPS 4-year graduation rate for the class of 2023 is actually 73.6%, a decrease of 3.1% rather than 8.9%,” the district said in a statement.

Similarly, St. Paul Schools said summer graduates “were not included in the 2023 numbers, which they typically are,” and that the district’s rate would have come in at 73 percent had the summer graduates been counted.

Gov. Tim Walz told WCCO he was struck by students’ resilience throughout the pandemic.

“We take this seriously, we want to keep getting them up. I think especially closing the gaps between some of the different demographic groups, we need to continue to work on,” he said of the graduation rate data. “We saw some progress there. But this is a journey, it’s not a destination. It’s a new world for these students.”

Editor’s note (April 15, 2024): Data in the graphics represents what all districts provided to the Department of Education. Minneapolis and St. Paul said the numbers published by the state didn’t include the graduates in their districts who finished during the summer. On April 15, MPR News published an analysis showing that the state’s graduation rate actually rose slightly.

This story originally appeared at: https://www.mprnews.org/story/2024/03/28/minnesota-4year-graduation-rates-slipped-in-2023 of story Questions or requests? Contact MPR News editor Michael Olson at newspartners@mpr.org © 2020 Minnesota Public Radio. All rights reserved.