MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Fresh numbers from the Minnesota Department of Education show an increase in students graduating high school on time.

Not only is there continued improvement in the overall graduation rate, but the gap between white students and other ethnic groups is getting smaller.

According to the 2014 data, 81.2 percent all students graduated in 2014. That’s compared to a statewide graduation rate of 79.8 percent in 2013.

Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius credits the improvements on earlier intervention with at-risk students and tougher learning standards.

“Our academic standards are very rigorous and students are just getting used to this year after year, so I think kids are just better prepared now for college or career,” Cassellius said.

However, when the rates are broken down by ethnic group, there are some stark contrasts. The graduation rates drop to 63.2 percent for Hispanic students, 60.4 percent for Blacks and only half of all Native American students graduate on time, with a 50.6 percent graduation rate.

In fact, Native American children in Minnesota have among the lowest graduation and highest dropout rates in the nation.

Robert Lilligren, the president of Little Earth, calls that unacceptable. He says the solution is giving Native American children an education that strikes a cultural balance, beginning before they enter school.

“By working with the native families, getting families into the system so they’re participating, getting native specific curriculum, emphasizing native history and culture, native languages, native students will do better,” Lilligren said.

In the past five years, the overall graduation rate has shown steady climb, of just under 6 percent. It will have to pick up the pace if the state goals of 90 percent overall and 85 percent for non-white groups is to be reached by 2020.

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