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Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


Here's a positive development for Minnesota students: The state's four-year high school graduation rate reached 83.6% in 2022, recovering from a lower rate during the pandemic one year earlier.

But the job of improving educational achievement across all student groups is far from finished.

Officials released the data earlier this week and reported that the improved grad rate included gains made by Black and American Indian students and pupils who identify as two or more races. Each of those groups had about 3 percentage points of improvement. The performance of those groups helped narrow, but not eliminate, the stubbornly persistent achievement disparities with white students.

Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) Commissioner Willie Jett told reporters on Tuesday that he is "proud of the class of 2022'' and that he wanted to celebrate and acknowledge the "unwavering commitment to excellence" by students and educators. He also acknowledged that there is more work to do to improve academic achievement.

Although the graduation numbers are moving in the right direction, the good news is tempered by other, less positive indicators. The most recent results of the statewide Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) tests, for example, showed the percentage of students able to do math at grade level has gone down year to year during the past decade. Reading scores have been similar year to year, but even so, about 40-50% of students were not proficient at reading.

It is hard to gauge the proficiency levels at graduation because high school students take the reading MCAs in 10th grade and the math exam in 11th grade. If you consider the graduation rates along with the proficiency rates, it is fair to ask whether enough high schoolers are getting diplomas but not getting the basic skills they need for work or higher education.

In addition, it's valid to ask if lower standards have contributed to better graduation rates. The math MCA was revised in 2011 based on the state's amended standards. In 2013, the Legislature removed the minimum test score requirement for a high school diploma.

Because of those changes, increasing numbers of students have opted out of taking the exams. What impact does lower student participation have on the results? And what other educational indicators should be considered to determine student success, such as class grades and other evaluations?

Yes, the slightly increased graduation rates are a good sign, and the hope is that the trend continues. Yet it's also critical to continue to work on improving test scores and student proficiency in basic areas like reading and math. It also matters to have strong graduation requirements to ensure that graduates have the skills needed for employment, postsecondary training or college.

Those assignments haven't been finished.