State Education Data Reveal Large Racial Achievement Gaps

White and Asian-American students graduated at a higher rate in nearly every state across the U.S. compared with black and Hispanic students in the 2010-11 school year, according to preliminary data released by the Education Department. The report presents additional evidence that a large racial achievement gap still exists among students across the country.

(INTERACTIVE: Charting State High School Graduation Rates by Race, Ethnicity)

Minnesota has a 42-percentage-point difference between graduation rates for white students (84 percent) compared with American Indians and Alaska Natives (42 percent). South Dakota has the highest gap, at 43 points, between white students (88 percent) and Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders (45 percent).

This is in comparison to smaller "“ though still sizable "“ gaps in states such as Arkansas (12 points) and Maine (13 points). Arkansas is also one of two states where American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest graduation rate of all races and ethnicities at 85 percent. Black students in Arkansas have the lowest rate at 73 percent.

In Maine, 90 percent of Asian-American and Pacific Islander students graduate compared with 77 percent of black students.

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The new four-year graduation rates were released earlier this week as part of the Education Department's efforts to standardize how states collect education data. States are now required to track how many first-time ninth-graders graduate from high school within four years. Before the 2010-11 school year, each state had its own method of reporting such numbers,resulting in largely incomparable data across the U.S.

Using the new method, Iowa tops the list with the highest average graduation rate at 88 percent. Vermont, Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Texas round out the top five. In contrast, the District of Columbia has the lowest graduation rate at 59 percent. Alaska, Oregon, Georgia, New Mexico, and Nevada are also among the bottom five. 

Idaho, Kentucky, and Oklahoma requested deadline extensions for their reports and are not included in the list. Because of the incomplete list, the Education Department has not released national averages.

Also available in the report were graduation rates for "special populations": students with limited-English proficiency, from low-income communities, or with disabilities. The graduation rates for these groups were, on the whole, lower than for any individual race or ethnicity.

For example, Virginia's overall graduation rate is 82 percent, yet just 47 percent of children with disabilities graduate and only 55 percent of LEP students do. In Mississippi, just 23 percent of children with disabilities graduate, compared to a state average of 75 percent.