The USOE recently released school evaluations for all Utah schools, evaluating graduation rates, CRT scores and student improvement.
I think a 2 percent increase on a statewide level is great. We're definitely moving in the right direction. —Judy Park, associate state superintendent

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's high school graduation rate continues to climb, according to new year-end data released by the Utah State Office of Education.

In 2012, 78 percent of high school seniors graduated, up 2 percent from 2011. The data continues an upward trend that has seen graduation rates increase 9 percent since 2008.

Judy Park, associate state superintendent, said the numbers are a cause for celebration and representative of the hard work of Utah's educators.

"I think a 2 percent increase on a statewide level is great," she said. "We're definitely moving in the right direction."

The rates also increased for every racial and demographic group, with the exception of black students, who stayed level at 61 percent. Asian and Hispanic students saw the greatest gains, increasing 5 percent to 77 percent and 62 percent, respectively.

Low-income students, English language learners and students with disabilities also saw increases, according to the report.

Despite those gains, a large performance gap remains between minority students and white students, who graduated at a rate of 82 percent. Minority students now account for 23 percent of the state's student population and that number is growing at more than double the rate of the state as a whole, according to the most recent population figures by the state office of education.

In November, the U.S. Department of Education released a state-by-state report in which Utah ranked behind 31 states in terms of overall graduation rates. For Hispanic students the state fared even worse, reporting the fourth-worst graduation rate in the country.

That report was based on a first-time data set collected under new federal guidelines. A state-by-state comparison of the 2012 rates will not be available until the U.S. Department of Education releases new data, which Park said will likely be in the fall.

"It will be interesting to see if other states make consistent gains as we have," Park said.

Assuming no change in other states, Utah's improved 2012 numbers would place the state behind 25 states in terms of overall graduation. Utah would also beat out seven states and Washington, D.C. — and tie with Alaska and Massachusetts — for Hispanic graduation rates.

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