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Bemidji High School graduation rate hits 15-year high

BEMIDJI—Bemidji High School's graduation rate hit a new high last year.

Eighty-eight percent of the BHS class of 2017 graduated in four years or the following summer, according to data released Tuesday by the Minnesota Department of Education—the highest mark recorded at the school since at least 2003 and half a percent higher than the goal school district leaders set for themselves in October.

District-wide, a little more than three-quarters of high schoolers graduated on time. That figure includes students at the district's alternative and special education programs.

Statewide, the graduation rate was 82.7 percent, which education department staff said is the highest figure they have on record. It also includes alternative learning centers and special education students.

"I am so proud of the work our teachers, administrators and communities have done to increase the number of Minnesota students graduating, and to reduce the likelihood that a child's race or ZIP code will predict their outcome," Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said Tuesday. "Most of all, I'm proud of our students. They are better prepared and are less likely to require remedial education."

State data also indicates a narrowed achievement gap: white students' graduation rates have risen 3.3 percent since 2012 while non-white students' rates have risen 11.1 percent.

"Despite this progress, unacceptable disparities persist among students of color in our schools," said Governor Mark Dayton. "These gaps underscore the need for continued improvements in early education, K-12, and higher education systems to eliminate disparities and ensure better educational opportunities for all Minnesotans."

In Bemidji, between 77 and 82 percent of white high schoolers graduated in four years, district-wide, since 2013, while 36 to 46 percent of American Indian students have done the same.

In 2017, 68 percent of American Indian students at Bemidji High School graduated on time and 91 percent of white students did. The year prior, those figures were 48 and 88 percent, respectively. The jumps in American Indian students' graduation rates can at least be partially attributed to small sample sizes: American Indians' graduation rate at BHS went up 20 points even though one fewer student graduated.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education and health for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He is a Minneapolis native and a 2009 graduate of St. John's University. Before moving to Bemidji, Bowen covered education, local politics, crime, and everything in between for the Perham Focus in Perham, Minnesota, and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis.

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