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Graduation rates for R.I.’s English-language learners fall for third straight year

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PROVIDENCE — The percentage of English-language learners who graduated from Rhode Island’s public high schools on time fell to 71.7 percent for the class of 2018, the third straight year that the state’s fastest-growing student population has seen a decline in its graduation rate, the state announced Friday.

The downward trend in outcomes for English learners — their graduation rate was 77 percent in 2015 — comes as policymakers continue to craft a long-term plan to improve performance metrics in Rhode Island schools.

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Marcela Betancur, the director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University, said she’s encouraged that the “failure of our students in the education system has been at the forefront” of discussions for state leaders over the last 18 months. But she wants to see results.

“This is unacceptable,” Betancur said. “It needs to stop being a conversation. We need to see action.”

In releasing the data Friday, the Rhode Island Department of Education said the state’s overall high school graduation rate was 84 percent for the second year in a row. For comparison’s sake, 87.9 percent of all students in Massachusetts completed high school on time, though the state’s graduation rate among English learners was even lower than Rhode Island’s, at 64.1 percent.

The new Rhode Island graduation rates were released less than two weeks before incoming Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green takes the helm. Governor Gina Raimondo has said she recruited Infante-Green from the New York State Education Department in part because she is considered an expert on English learners.

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Infante-Green helped author New York’s “Blueprint for English Language Learners’ Success” and has said she plans to craft a similar plan for Rhode Island.

The number of students identified as English learners in Rhode Island has doubled since 2008, from 7,500 students to 15,200 in the current school year, according to figures provided by the state. Approximately half of all English learners in the state attend Providence public schools.

Raimondo is seeking to increase the amount of state aid set aside for English learners to $5 million in her budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, but lawmakers haven’t committed to supporting the proposal.

In a statement, outgoing Education Commissioner Ken Wagner did not specifically address the graduation rate issue. He said the overall completion rate is “an important measure of performance,” but “it does not tell the whole story.”

“All of our graduates should be proficient,” Wagner said. “The disconnect between student performance on assessments and the statewide graduation rate underscores the fact that more must be done to properly challenge, engage, and support our students.”


Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.