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Maine high school graduation rates climb slightly

Graduates of Lawrence High School celebrate during a graduation car parade, Friday, June 5, 2020, in Lawrence, Mass.
Elise Amendola
Graduates of Lawrence High School celebrate during a graduation car parade, Friday, June 5, 2020, in Lawrence, Mass. Commencement ceremonies across the state have been cancelled or altered due to the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

High school student graduation rates in Maine rebounded slightly last year after a decline during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

From 2019 to 2021, the statewide percentage fell from about 88% to 86%, then inched up to 86.1% last year.

Eileen King, the executive director of the Maine School Superintendents Association, said that that the pandemic and remote learning had an impact on graduation rates, and that schools have worked hard to reach and support students in recent years.

"Being in school for our students is much more important and enjoyable than learning remotely and is keeping our students engaged in their education We need to keep in mind that many of our students are still working hard to get past some depression and mental health issues that they experienced as a result of COVID," King said in an email.

"The more time students are back in school and the more engaged they become in the overall school experience and routines, I expect to see the graduation rates continue to increase and I hope that we will also begin to see an decrease in depression among our teens."

The state also notes that many students have also used alternative pathways to graduate, which aren't included in the official graduation numbers.

According to data from the Maine Department of Education, 1,100 students received alternate high school credentials through adult education last year, which is 31 percent higher than two years before.

DOE Spokesperson Marcus Mrowka added that in 2019 and 2020, only a handful of students received a Department of Education Diploma, "which are available to eligible secondary students who have met the state’s minimum requirements for a diploma but due to educational disruption have not been able to meet the requirements for the locally awarded diploma."

But Mrowka said that the state legislature created a new diploma pathway in 2021 for students whose education was impacted by COVID-19. And from September 2021 to August 2022, the DOE approved 214 applications for state diplomas.