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Amid uneven hybrid and remote school schedules, Maine high school graduation rates fell in 2021

Virus Outbreak Maine
Robert F. Bukaty
Students from Regional School Unit 5 wear COVID face coverings as they head home on a school bus, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, in Freeport, Maine.

High school graduation rates fell again in Maine last year, likely reflecting the effects of the pandemic on learning across the state.

According to recent data from the Maine Department of Education, about 86% of Maine high schoolers graduated in 2021. While graduation rates in Maine have generally increased in recent years, 2021's rate is the lowest in about five years, and a decline of about 1.3 percentage points from 2020.

It was also one of the larger drops among the states that have released graduation data so far, according to an analysis from the news outlet Chalkbeat.

Bucksport High School Principal Josh Tripp said the numbers aren't surprising. Even with large efforts to keep students engaged during hybrid and remote learning last year, Tripp said, many students lost connection to school.

"When they're 17, 18 years old, there's only so much at your disposal to get them back in the building. You can do house visits. You can do meetings. But when they decide they're not coming back, they're not coming back," Tripp said.

Tripp says bringing students back in-person full time is keeping more of them connected this year.

A Maine Department of Education spokesperson added that that the state has seen more students pursue alternative pathways toward completing school.

“While not represented in the federal data, we’ve seen an increase in the number of students seeking alternative pathways to school completion than the previous year," DOE spokesperson Marcus Mrowka wrote in an email. "These are valuable and valid pathways that Maine students are taking advantage of and its important our students have these options, especially during this pandemic.”

Schools are also required to a spend a portion of their funds from the federal American Rescue Plan on additional academic supports, and many have invested in summer programming and tutoring.