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Data: Wisconsin blacks struggled to graduate in 4 years


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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Less than two-thirds of black students in the class of 2015 graduated from Wisconsin high schools within four years, according to state data released Thursday.

Sixty-four percent of black students in the class of 2015 graduated within four years, according to the Department of Public Instruction statistics. That's down from 65 percent in 2014. By contrast, 92.9 percent of white students in the class of 2015 graduated in four years. That figure was unchanged from 2014.

Less than two-thirds of black students have graduated with their class for four straight academic years. A news release DPI issued with the statistics focused on the state's overall 88.4 percent four-year graduation rate. The release notes that graduation rates for racial and ethnic groups, including American Indians, blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders and biracial children, have improved overall since 2011 but makes no specific mention of the black rates, which sat at 63.8 percent in 2011.

Frank Humphrey, president of the Wisconsin Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said it was alarming that the DPI has said nothing about the black students' rates. He said the poor rates reflect shortcomings in the system that begin as early as kindergarten, including a lack of black teachers, a lack of a high expectations for black students and difficult home lives.

"These issues are all plaguing our public school system and they're colliding so everyone can point fingers rather than accept the responsibility to educate the children," Humphrey said. "This is becoming our worst nightmare. (Poor graduation trends) impair the black community in a way that even in the days of old didn't challenge it. There was always a belief that education was a way out."

Ken Taylor, executive director of Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, a child advocacy group, called the lack of improvement in the black graduation rate a problem that the entire state must address. He said the poor performance reflects disparities between blacks and whites across Wisconsin, from poverty rates to incarceration rates.

A 2014 WCCF report found that nearly 94 percent of white children in Wisconsin lived in low poverty areas between 2007 and 2011, compared with 39 percent of black children.

Whites were nearly six times more likely to be proficient in eighth-grade math than blacks in 2013 and just 11 percent of black fourth-graders were proficient readers compared with 41 percent of whites that year, the report said.

The findings also showed that 65 percent of blacks ages 19 through 26 were in school or working between 2010 and 2012, compared with 90 percent of their white counterparts.

"There's no question it's a combination of factors in my mind," Taylor said. "We have to collectively take responsibility for addressing (the disparities) and not just look at this as an education problem."

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