U.S. high school grad­u­a­tion rate hits record level

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - WEATHER -

WASH­ING­TON >> The na­tion’s high school grad­u­a­tion rate has reached a record 83.2 per­cent, con­tin­u­ing a steady in­crease that shows im­prove­ment across all racial and eth­nic groups, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral data re­leased Mon­day.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama wel­comed the higher rate as good news, but the gains come against a back­drop of de­creas­ing scores on na­tional math and read­ing tests.

Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary John B. King Jr. ac­knowl­edged wor­ries about sag­ging achieve­ment. “A higher grad­u­a­tion rate is mean­ing­ful progress, but cer­tainly we share the con­cern that we have more work to do to make sure ev­ery stu­dent grad­u­ates ready for what’s next,” he said.

Obama vis­ited Ben­jamin Ban­neker Aca­demic High School, a mag­net school in the Dis­trict of Columbia, to tout the grad­u­a­tion rate for the 2014-15 school year. “More African-Amer­i­can and Latino stu­dents are grad­u­at­ing than ever be­fore,” he said.

Gains also were seen for dis­abled stu­dents and those from low-in­come fam­i­lies.

The Dis­trict of Columbia made the most progress in the U.S. in 2014-15 com­pared to the pre­vi­ous year, im­prov­ing its grad­u­a­tion rate by 7 per­cent­age points.

Obama ap­plauded the high school for grad­u­at­ing all its se­niors. “It’s been a while since I did math, but 100 per­cent is good. You can’t do bet­ter than that,” Obama told the au­di­ence, which in­cluded King, for­mer Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Arne Dun­can, Mayor Muriel Bowser and for­mer Sec­re­tary of State Colin Pow­ell.

At the same time, he also warned the stu­dents they would need more than a high school diploma to suc­ceed in to­day’s job mar­ket. He said that repet­i­tive work done in fac­to­ries or of­fices can now be done by ma­chine. They would need crit­i­cal think­ing skills.

“We live in a global econ­omy,” Obama said. “And the best jobs are go­ing to go to the peo­ple who are the best ed­u­cated, whether in In­dia or China, or any­where in the world.”

Be­fore the pres­i­dent spoke, King said the grad­u­a­tion rate was more than just a num­ber. “It rep­re­sents real stu­dents in real cities, towns and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties who are bet­ter pre­pared for suc­cess in col­lege and ca­reers,” King said dur­ing a con­fer­ence call with re­porters.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion said the grad­u­a­tion rate has in­creased by about 4 per­cent­age points since the 2010-11 school year. Obama fre­quently cites the in­crease when he talks to groups about progress made dur­ing his pres­i­dency.

De­spite the in­crease in the grad­u­a­tion rate, test scores are de­clin­ing.

Last year, math scores for fourth and eighth graders dropped for the first time in 25 years on the 2015 Na­tional As­sess­ment of Ed­u­ca­tional Progress — also known as the Na­tion’s Re­port Card. Read­ing scores were not much bet­ter: flat for fourth graders and lower for eighth graders com­pared with 2013. Av­er­age scores on SAT and ACT col­lege en­trance ex­ams have also shown de­clines.

The growth in grad­u­a­tion rates has been steady since states adopted a uni­form way of track­ing stu­dents. In 2008, the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion or­dered states to be­gin us­ing a for­mula that is con­sid­ered a more ac­cu­rate count of how many stu­dents ac­tu­ally fin­ish school.

Sev­eral groups cam­paign­ing for a 90 per­cent grad­u­a­tion rate by 2020 wel­comed the progress, but said much work re­mains.

“Too many young peo­ple are still be­ing left be­hind,” said an ar­ray of ed­u­ca­tion groups lead­ing the GradNa­tion cam­paign.

The groups said that nearly 700,000 16-19 year olds are not in school and do not have a high school diploma, and they called for a re­dou­bling of ef­forts to close grad­u­a­tion gaps among mi­nor­ity and poor stu­dents, English­language learn­ers, home­less stu­dents and stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties.

Obama also em­pha­sized there was more work to do. He said too many states have cut ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing and many still aren’t work­ing se­ri­ously to raise learn­ing stan­dards.

“In too many school dis­tricts, we still have schools that de­spite the heroic ef­forts of a lot of great teach­ers are not fully pre­par­ing their kids for suc­cess be­cause they don’t have the re­sources to do it, or the struc­ture to do it,” Obama said.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion re­ported sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences in grad­u­a­tion rates among groups. Asian Amer­i­cans had a 90.2 per­cent grad­u­a­tion rate, while whites were at 87.6 per­cent, fol­lowed by His­pan­ics at 77.8 per­cent, African-Amer­i­cans at 74.6 per­cent and Na­tive Amer­i­cans at 71.6 per­cent.

The White House said money in­vested through a grant pro­gram called Race to the Top has helped im­prove some of the na­tion’s low­est-per­form­ing schools. The ad­min­is­tra­tion also said mil­lions of stu­dents have gained ac­cess to high-speed broad­band in their class­rooms, and that state and fed­eral gov­ern­ments have helped hun­dreds of thou­sands more chil­dren gain ac­cess to preschool pro­grams.

SUSAN WALSH — ASSOCIATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama speaks Mon­day at Ben­jamin Ban­neker Aca­demic High School in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

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