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High school graduation rate hits record high

KEVIN FREKING | 10/28/2016, 1:34 p.m.
The nation’s high school graduation rate has reached a record 83.2 percent, continuing a steady increase that shows improvement across ...
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WASHINGTON (AP) – 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 2014-2015 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 2014-2015 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 could 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 2010-2011 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.