Utah Valley high school students lift state graduation rates

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When it comes to grit, it’s hard to beat the students at Maple Mountain High.

Four years ago, 399 nervous freshmen officially began their high school careers at Maple Mountain. In 2013, a total of 385 of them – 96 percent – walked off stage with their high school diplomas.

It is success stories like Maple Mountain’s that has Utah state education officials beaming with pride. Recently released figures from the state department show that Utah’s high school graduation rate is continuing to rise. In 2013, four out of five high school seniors (81 percent) received their diplomas.

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That graduation rate represents a steady climb in Utah, a 12-percentage point improvement over the 2008 rate and a 3 percent increase over 2012’s 78 percent.

But Maple Mountain was not the only Utah County school bolstering the graduation statistics.

Salem High succeeded in graduating 95 percent of its students, and Springville, Orem, Payson and Spanish Fork high schools each handed out diplomas to 94 percent of their candidates. Lone Peak had a 92 percent success rate, while Lehi and Pleasant Grove were close behind at 91 percent.

Alpine District’s graduation rate shot up to 87 percent, compared to 79 percent in 2012.

Martell Menlove, the state superintendent of schools, said he is encouraged with Utah’s steady improvement in graduation rates.

Graduation rates for minorities lag behind white students in Utah, but the minorities are improving rapidly as well. The Latino graduation rate improved to 68 percent in 2013, a 5 percent increase over 2012.

Menlove said the state’s goal is 90 percent graduation rate by 2020.

Pam Perlich, a senior research economist at the University of Utah, told the Salt Lake Tribune that now is an ideal time to work on improving graduation rates as the state’s birthrate is down and migration to Utah has slowed.

“The investment of additional funding I think will be necessary if we’re going to make it all the way to 90 percent,” Menlove said in a Salt Lake Tribune interview.

A government website shows Utah has the lowest spending per pupil in the nation. Utah is also last in instructional spending and support services spending.

Utah teachers earned an average of $49,393 last year, 33rd highest in the nation.

 

 

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Ron Bennett is a recently retired university journalism professor at Brigham Young University-Idaho, where he taught journalistic writing, editing and mass media classes. He received the Distinguished Faculty award at BYU-I in 2012, and he was honored by the College Media Advisers Association in 2002 with the Distinguished Newspaper Adviser's Award. Prior to entering education, he was a professional journalist at several newspapers, including the Gazette-Journal in Reno, Nevada.

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