Graduation rates were up and dropouts decreased for the class of 2020, according to Minnesota Department of Education data released Thursday, June 10.

The class of 2020's senior year come to an abrupt end in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Classes were hastily thrown into distance learning and schools scrambled to come up with alternatives to traditional graduation ceremonies.

But despite all of that, data released by the Department of Education show a slight increase in overall four-year graduation rates as well as a significant increase in American Indian student graduations.

Statewide, 83.8% of 2020 seniors graduated. This is a historic high for the state but is only 1.3% higher than graduation rates in 2016.

“The class of 2020 graduated while we were all just learning how to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic," Education Commissioner Heather Mueller said in a news release. "This was a time of great uncertainty, and the perseverance of our students, educators and families demonstrates their commitment to rise to this moment and reach the end of their pre-K through grade 12 journey."

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On top of the 2020 graduations, 3,490 additional students earned their diplomas. These students are from previous grades and graduated five, six or seven years after starting high school.

Dropout rates for the class of 2020 decreased from 4.4% to 3.7% overall and for every major student group. This is a continuing trend from 2019, which saw a decrease in dropout rates compared to 2018.

“Seeing dropout rates continue to decrease is incredibly promising,” Mueller said.

Heather Mueller began her new role as Minnesota Department of Education commissioner April 1, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Minnesota Department of Education)
Heather Mueller began her new role as Minnesota Department of Education commissioner April 1, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Minnesota Department of Education)

But not all of the news from 2020 graduation rates was good news. Mueller said there is a lot of work still to be done, especially with Black student graduation rates, which saw a decrease from 2019.

“When our school communities rally around students to help them complete high school, we can make a real difference,” Mueller said. “Dropout prevention begins the moment students walk in the door of our elementary schools and continues until they make it to graduation. I am excited to continue working with school leaders to share effective practices in this critical area.”

Black students saw a decrease of 0.7% from 2019 and English learners saw a 1% decrease in four-year graduation rates from 2019.

Except for those two groups, every other major group saw an increase in graduation rates. American Indian students saw the biggest increase of 4.9% over 2019. This group has one of the lowest graduation rates in the state and continues to even with the 4.9% increase.

Statewide, American Indian student four-year graduation rates were only 55.7% in 2020. In 2019, that number was 50.8%. Students receiving special education have the second-lowest four-year graduation rate of 65%, though many schools in the state put special education students on five-year graduation plans.

“While we have so much to be proud of in Minnesota, we know that we still have work to do to close gaps and increase access, participation and representation to ensure every single student graduates from high school,” Mueller said.