Wisconsin’s 88.4 percent high school graduation rate remains considerably higher than the national average, which hit a record of 83.2 percent during the 2014-15 school year, according to data released Monday by the U.S. Department of Education.
However, despite generally good performance overall, Wisconsin also retains the unfortunate distinction of having the widest graduation rate between white and black students in the nation and the tenth highest gap between white and Latino students graduating in four years, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
For the 2014-15 school year, the data show 92.9 percent of Wisconsin’s white students graduated within four years, compared to 64.1 percent of black students. That gap was more than twice as large as the racial disparity in national graduation rates, which saw 87.6 percent of white students graduate in four years compared to 74.6 percent of black students.
Among the reasons the achievement gap is so stark in Wisconsin is that its four-year (on-time) graduation rate for white students (92.9 percent) is very high, ranking third in the nation behind only New Jersey (94 percent) and Texas (93.4 percent). In contrast, Wisconsin’s on-time graduation rate for black students (64.1 percent) ranks sixth lowest in the nation. Nevada is the lowest (55.5 percent), while Minnesota (62.0 percent) ranks fourth lowest.
Four-year (on-time) graduation rates for Wisconsin’s Latino students (77.5 percent) were close to the national rate (77.8 percent), but still result in wide achievement gaps when compared with white students.
Patricia Hoben, who runs three school-board-authorized charter schools within the Milwaukee Public Schools, suggests that using four-year (on-time) graduation rate figures may not be the fairest measure to use when it comes to economically disadvantaged students and students of color. She notes that within her schools, students can’t advance unless they earn a “C” or better in their classes. As a result, it takes about 15 percent of her students five years to graduate.
Hoben told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “The gap data are real and horrendous, but the concern I have when you focus on that is there are all sorts of ways to move kids along,” adding, “We know kids are graduating with a 3.0 GPA and a 14 on their ACT exam. If you wait to graduate kids until they can get an 18 or a 20 on the ACT, they’re more likely to go to college and into the workplace.”
Wisconsin’s overall five-year high school completion rate is 91.6 percent, roughly three percentage points higher than the four-year rate.
Read More: National Public Radio—State-by-State Figures & Analysis (w/ audio);