Nevada scored poorly in a national comparison of minority graduation rates, with four in 10 Hispanic and black high school students earning diplomas in 2001, compared with six in 10 white students.
Four states had a lower Hispanic graduation rate in the study by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, while only New Mexico and Ohio had a lower graduation rate for black students.
The study ranked Nevada 49th among other states and the District of Columbia in the percentage of students graduating from high school. The state's graduation rate of 54.7 percent topped only Florida and South Carolina.
The nationwide study found that 75 percent of white students graduated in 2001 compared with 50 percent of black students, 53 percent of Hispanic students and 51 percent of Native American students.
"The findings presented do not paint a flattering portrait of high school graduation for public schools in the United States," the report concludes.
Nevada schools Superintendent Keith Rheault said the state education department charted a 63 percent overall graduation rate in 2001, including 47 percent for black students, 45 percent for Hispanic students and 70 percent for white students.
Rheault said the varied results stem from using different formulas than the Harvard study. But state and Clark County school officials did not dispute that minority graduation rates in Nevada are low.
"Closing the gap between our minority students and increasing graduation rates overall is a top priority," said Agustin Orci, deputy superintendent of the Clark County School District, the nation's sixth-largest.
State figures showed the Las Vegas-based district improved its graduation rate for Hispanic students to 46 percent in 2002, up from 43 percent in 2001, while the graduation rate for black students was 47 percent both years.
Orci said a new reading program in middle schools with high minority enrollment will expand next year to several high schools.
Aldo Aguirre, a former candidate for the Nevada Board of Regents, cited a low percentage of minority teachers and said many Hispanic students don't take courses needed to pass graduation exams.
He also cited the availability of good-paying jobs for people without diplomas.
The Civil Rights Project report also criticized the federal No Child Left Behind Act for not holding states accountable for minority student graduation rates.