Feds: N.J. graduation rates among best in nation

But as graduation rates climb annually, there’s growing concern about whether schools are genuinely preparing students for life after high school and meeting a high academic bar, and whether schools are doing enough to close achievement gaps.

The on-time graduation rate for low-income New Jersey students was 79.6 percent, compared with 92.4 percent for non-low income students.

The racial gap, which has narrowed since 2011, remains significant. Among African-American students, 78.9 percent graduated in four years. The figure was 80.6 percent for Hispanics, 93.5 percent for whites, and 96 percent for Asians.

The report also tracked the number of “low-graduation-rate schools” – or schools enrolling 100 or more students with graduation rates of 67 percent or less. In New Jersey, 6 percent of regular high schools were “low-graduation schools.” The U.S. average was 7 percent.

These high schools enrolled larger populations of black, Hispanic and low-income students and more than half in 2014 were located in urban areas, according to report. The report’s authors said it was “critical” that these schools be targeted for reforms and support.

U.S. graduation rates have risen every year since 2002. As the rise continues, and some advocates question whether students are getting skills they need for college and careers, the report’s authors claimed that schools are not lowering the bar for graduation. They noted that many states have rolled out tougher standards, including the Common Core standards that New Jersey adopted in 2010, and define what students need to know in each grade level.

New Jersey last year replaced a state exam that 80 to 90 percent of students had passed to earn their diplomas. Students now measure up to benchmarks from a new menu of tests that includes college entrance exams, the military exam or the new state test known as PARCC that is considered to be much harder than its predecessor.

It remains to be seen whether these changes will impact New Jersey’s graduation rates. State officials said the changes were necessary because too many students require remedial classes before they are able to start college courses or didn’t have skills they need to apply for most jobs, officials said.

The report was based on U.S. Department of Education statistics. The federal government changed the method of reporting in 2012 and made it uniform across the country to allow for more consistent comparisons.

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