Racial Gap In Montana Graduation Rates Shrinking

Sep 12, 2018

The gap in the graduation rates between Native American students in Montana and White students continues to shrink, dropping 4 percent since 2012. Data released Wednesday show there was a significant uptick in the Native American graduation rate in Montana last year.

The racial disparity among graduation rates in Montana trended down between 2012 and 2017, according to a new report on American Indian student achievement that Montana’s Office of Public Instruction (OPI) gave to a legislative education oversight committee

OPI’S Eric Meredith told lawmakers that in 2017 the American Indian graduation rate was 69.5 percent, compared to 88.7 percent for White students.

“The good news is that the graduation rates are increasing,” Meredith said.

The graduation rate for White students has stayed the same the last three years. After trending up for years, the rate for Native American students made its largest spike last year, growing 3.5 percent.

However, the American Indian graduation rate remains more than 19 percentage points lower than for White students.

And, in a reversal of recent progress to close the achievement gap, dropout rates among Native students in the 2016-2017 school year increased.

“One concern here is that you can see there was an increase for the American Indian dropout rate for the first time that we’ve seen in a very long time, while the White student subgroup still decreased their rate,” Meredith said.

According to the OPI report, American Indian students tend to drop out at an earlier age than White students.

Meredith says more than half of the dropouts among Native students are because those students had a hard time getting to school. Among non-Native students, attendance accounted for only one-third of dropouts.

The 2018 report also shows little significant change in the most recent data in the gap between Montana American Indian scores and those of their peers on national assessment tests.

The OPI report concludes that improvement in the achievement gap “will not happen overnight,” but it is important for the gap to continue to narrow.

Native Americans make up 14 percent of Montana’s K-12 public school population.

The state’s education department gives school districts $200 a year per American Indian student to fund efforts to close the achievement gap. Last year, districts received roughly 4 million dollars for that purpose.