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National high school graduation rates have reached a record high average of 81 percent, in part because of the large gains among Latino and African-American students.
According to an annual Grad Nation report released Monday by America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, Everyone Graduates Center and the Alliance for Excellent Education, more than 1.8 million students have graduated from high school in the United States over the last decade.
The data is based on 2013 rates using federal data, the most recent available. The report estimates that the U.S. is on track for a 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020
The graduation rate of Latino students – the largest growing minority in the country – has risen by 15 percent to 75 percent since 2006.
The improvement is due to a variety of factors, including greater consistency in comparing graduation rates from state to state and the development of systems to identify and target at-risk students.
The increase in the graduation rate also has been accompanied by a decline in the number of high schools with low graduation rates – often referred to as “dropout factories” – where 60 percent or less of students graduate.
The number of Latino and African-American students attended these schools has dropped below 15 percent and 20 percent respectively, the report said.
“Minority students continue to face barriers in their academic success, including discipline disparities that push them off track for graduation, language barriers and lack of access to rigorous coursework that will enable to them to be successful in college and career,” the report said.
Minority students, despite their barriers, have started to close the graduation gap with their white student peers.
According to the report, six states combined educate more than 70 percent of Hispanic or Latino students, but Texas is the only one that has a graduation rate for these students above the national average of 81 percent.
Michigan, New York, Ohio, Georgia, Florida, California and Illinois are collectively home to more than 40 percent of African American students. These states graduate only about 6 out of 10 black students or have recently had declines.
Despite gains to the national average, there is still some work that needs to be done for students with disabilities and low-income students to catch up to their peers, although some states are doing better than others.
Students with disabilities graduate at a rate of 62 percent, 20 points behind the national average. The rate is 2.9 percentage points higher than two years earlier.
These students include those with intellectual disabilities with significant limitations, but also a wide range of other disabilities such as autism and speech impairments.
It's estimated that 85 percent of students with disabilities can do grade-level work, said Katy Neas, executive vice president for public affairs at Easter Seals. Neas said there have been improvements in the number of students with disabilities earning standard diplomas, but historically low expectations kept these students from getting the support they need.
"When these kids get the right services and support, they can be successful in grade level academic work," Neas said.
Again, there are wide disparities, among states. Mississippi, for example, has a graduation rate among these students of 23 percent. Its neighbor, Alabama, has a graduation rate for students with disabilities of 77 percent.
John Gomperts, CEO of America's Promise Alliance, said more work needs to be done to better understand the discrepancies among the states.
The graduation rate for low-income students was 73 percent. It's moved up 3 points in the last two years, but is still 8 percentage points below the national overall rate.
In Kentucky and Texas, 85 percent of low-income students get a diploma. In contrast, 65 percent or less of low-income students do in Alaska, Oregon, Colorado, Minnesota, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Wyoming, New Mexico or Washington.
Graduation rates among the states vary, ranging from 90 percent in Iowa to 69 percent in Oregon.
Gains have been fueled, in part, by large growth in some of the nation's largest states, including California, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina. But 15 percent of the nation's high school students attend school in New York, Illinois, Washington and Arizona, where rates are declining or stagnating.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.