For the fourth straight year, the U.S. high school graduation rate has improved — reaching an all-time high of 82 percent in the 2013-2014 school year, the Department of Education announced Tuesday. Achievement gaps have narrowed, too, with graduation rates ranging from 89 percent for students classified as Asian/Pacific Islanders to 62.6 percent for English-language learners.
"It is encouraging to see our graduation rate on the rise and I applaud the hard work we know it takes to see this increase," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a statement.
The growth in graduation rates has been steady since states adopted a uniform way of tracking the rate five years ago. This good news comes at the same time that performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (often called the "Nation's Report Card"), has dipped. Scores on the SAT are down too.
As NPR reported earlier this year, the rising graduation rate reflects both genuine progress and some questionable strategies that mask continuing problems. States are pursuing a variety of strategies to increase the percentage of students who graduate from high school; from early warning systems and increased support, to multiple diploma tracks, second chances, and in some cases apparent manipulation of statistics.
The Every Student Succeeds Act, signed last week into law, makes graduation rates a mandatory part of state accountability formulas. It also requires states to focus on schools dubbed "dropout factories," where graduation rates are 66 percent or lower.
The GradNation campaign, a coalition of organizations working to push the U.S. graduation rate up to 90 percent by 2020, applauded the news in a statement. But it also noted that the improvement wasn't quite fast enough to stay on track toward that 90 percent goal.