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Rural States Boast Top Grad Rates, But Native Students Lag

Several states with mostly rural school districts posted the nation's highest four-year graduation rates during the 2011-12 school year, according to federal data released this week by the National Center for Education Statistics.

The highest graduation rate was in Iowa, where 89 percent of students graduated in four years, compared to the national average of 80 percent. In 2012, nearly 75 percent of school districts in Iowa were classified as rural. In Vermont, where more than 80 percent of schools districts are rural, 88 percent of students graduated in four years. North Dakota saw its graduation rate rise from 86 percent in the 2010-11 school year, to 87 percent in 2011-12. More than 90 percent of districts in the state are rural.

The data mirror a report released last year by NCES, which found that rural students tend to outperform their peers in cities and towns, but lag behind suburban classmates. Rural students are also less likely to attend college, and those who do are less likely to attend a four-year or selective school.

Last year's report highlighted some potential caveats for rural school achievement. Although more than half of all school districts in the country are classified as rural, those districts enroll fewer students than suburbs and cities. Fewer rural students live in poverty than students in towns and cities, and rural schools tend to enroll a higher percentage of white students than the national average.

In some states with the highest graduation rates, there are disparities in the graduation rates between economic and racial groups. In Iowa, only 74 percent of black students graduate in four years, compared to 91 percent of white students. In North Dakota, only 63 percent of American Indian students graduate, compared to 90 percent of white students.

The data also show that nationwide, American Indian and Alaska Native students graduate at rates far below their peers. Only 67 percent of Native American students graduate in four years, compared to 86 percent of white students, and 88 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander students. Students at Bureau of Indian Education schools also lag behind, with a graduation rate of only 53 percent during the 2011-12 school year, an 8 percentage point drop from the previous year.

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