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graduates.JPGCalifornia's high school graduation rate topped 80 percent last year, equaling what was happening in the nation as a whole, state schools chief Tom Torlakson announced Monday.

And, Torlakson said, graduation rates among Latino and African-American students increased faster than those of white and Asian-American students, meaning the "achievement gap" is closing.

The new data "help us close the achievement gap," Torlakson said as he released the annual report.

The graduation rate for the class of 2013 was 80.2 percent - the proportion of those who entered the ninth grade four years earlier who received diplomas. Torlakson said the dropout rate was 11.6 percent while another 8.2 percent were either still in school (7.5 percent), had passed a high school equivalency exam or were in special education classes.

The 80.2 percent graduation rate was 1.3 percentage points higher than for the class of 2012, while the dropout rate was down 1.5 percentage points.

Even though the gap narrowed, graduation rates of white students (87.6 percent) and Asian-Americans (91.6 percent) were still markedly higher than those of Latinos (75.4 percent) and African Americans (67.9 percent).

As California's results were being released, a seminar in Washington on high school graduation was told that the national graduation rate was 80 percent. The report, called "Building a Grad Nation," singled out California, saying:

"As the most populous state and most diverse state, California needs to be a focus of national attention and work. With the highest poverty rate in the country, a median household income 20 percent higher than the nation's, and a population that is 61 percent non-Anglo, California is key to reaching 90 percent graduation rate nationally, but also remains a laboratory of innovation in education reform."

Updated at 11:25 a.m. with commentary on California.

PHOTO: Twins Javier and Steven Gomez wait in line before their inaugural graduation from West Sacramento Early College Prep on Sunday, June 9, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.



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