North Carolina’s high school graduation rate continued to rise to record levels, according to new figures released Thursday.
The latest state figures show that 82.5 percent of public high school seniors graduated this year in four years, up from 80.4 percent in 2012. The state’s graduation rate has risen by 14.2 percentage points over the past seven years.
“All North Carolinians who have taken part in the lives of our children deserve credit for this,” said State Schools Superintendent June Atkinson.
The Wake County school system’s graduation rate increased slightly from 80.6 percent to 81 percent. But it marks the first time that Wake, the state’s largest school system, has fallen below the state’s average graduation rate.
Wake is now also tied with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system at 81 percent. But Charlotte-Mecklenburg saw its rate jump sharply from 76.4 percent the prior year. In other results:
• The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system’s graduation rate was 92.6 percent, up from 90 percent.
• The Durham school system’s graduation rate increased from 76.9 percent to 79.6 percent.
• The rate increased slightly in the Johnston County school system from 82.4 percent to 82.5 percent.
• The Orange County school system was the only Triangle district to see a decrease, with its graduation rate falling from 85.4 percent to 82.5 percent.
The graduation rates for Raleigh’s eight largest high schools were: Leesville Road 86.0, Wakefield 85.3, Broughton 81.4, Millbrook 79.6, Enloe 78.7, Sanderson 78.1, Athens Drive 75.8 and Southeast Raleigh 75.2. In Wake Forest, Heritage was at 89.4, and Wake Forest-Rolesville came in at 86.2. The two charter schools in Wake were Franklin Academy at 94.4 and Raleigh Charter at more than 95. Wake Early College of Health and Sciences also had a graduation rate of more than 95 percent.
North Carolina’s gain mirrors similar trends taking place nationwide.
In January, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that graduation rates were at the highest rate nationally since 1974 Based on 2010 data, the latest year for which national figures are available, the center reported that 78.2 percent of high school students were graduating on time.
Whether the gains in North Carolina and nationwide are more attributable to new programs or to students not dropping out because of the weak economy has been hotly debated.
North Carolina, like other states, used to report inflated graduation numbers. But states were forced to come up with a more standardized measurement as part of the federal No Child Left Behind program.
In 2006, the first year North Carolina reported out under the new formula, the graduation rate stood at 68.3 percent. Since then, the graduation rate has increased overall and among the different subgroups.
The graduation rate for black students is now 77.5 percent, compared with 60.4 percent in 2006. For Hispanic students, it’s risen 23 percentage points in the past seven years to 75.3 percent. For economically disadvantaged students, the rate has increased 20.5 percentage points since 2006 to 76.1 percent.
The rate for white students is now 86.2 percent, up 12.7 percentage points since 2006.
In recent years, the state’s graduation rate has become enmeshed in political fighting.
Democratic leaders have charged that the state’s gains are being jeopardized by state education funding cuts made by the Republican-led legislature. But Republican leaders say the gains reflect efforts made to give local educators more flexibility in how they work with students.