For more than a decade, Florida officials have made a concerted effort to increase graduation rates from when they hovered near half of high school students.
The effort has succeeded through a combination of actions, ranging from changing requirements to the advent of credit recovery options. And the 2017-18 figures set a new high of 86.1 percent, the Florida Department of Education announced.
"As commissioner, I vowed to be a voice for the voiceless, and that often meant advocating for minority and low-income students whose performance historically fell below that of their white counterparts. Today's announcement is particularly important because it not only shows across-the-board progress, it highlights success in closing the achievement gap and leveling the playing field for all students," retiring commissioner Pam Stewart said in a released statement.
The rate for white students was 89 percent, compared to 80.9 percent for black students and 85.1 percent for Hispanics. The rates for students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches, an indicator of poverty, was 82 percent, while the level for English language learners was 75 percent and for teens receiving exceptional student education it was 77 percent.
National data for 2017-18 was not available. But Florida has lagged in previous years, with its rate higher than just 14 states in 2015-16, the latest information reported.
Tampa area school districts performed close to or above the state rate for 2017:
Hernando had the top results in the area, with an 87.6 percent overall rate with a tiny achievement gap. Its rate for white students was 89 percent, compared to 86 percent for both black and Hispanic teens. Its students on free-reduced lunches had an 85.3 percent rate, with English language learners at 89.2 percent and special education students at 75.8 percent.
Pasco came next in the region, at 86.7 percent overall and also a small achievement gap. Its rate for white students was 86.9 percent, for black students 85.6 percent and for Hispanic students 85.3 percent. It fared a bit worse in the other categories, with an 81.6 percent rate for free-reduced lunch teens, 71.8 percent for English language learners and 79.2 percent for ESE.
Pinellas fell just shy of the state rate, with 86.0 percent overall. The rates were similar for racial groups, with 88.5 percent for white students, 85.6 percent for black students and 85.3 for Hispanic students. Its rate for teens eligible for free-reduced lunch was 78.5 percent, for English language learners 78.4 percent, and special education students 72.5 percent.
Hillsborough, the area's biggest district, logged in with a 85.8 percent grad rate. For white students, the rate was 90.8 percent, while for black students it was 79.4 percent and for Hispanic students 83.4 percent — the largest achievement gap in the region. For students eligible for free-reduced lunch, Hillsborough's rate was 80.5 percent, while its rate for English language learners was 75.1 percent and for special education students it was 76.3 percent.
Of course, individual schools had their own results, indicating where they had successes and where they had work to do.
The reaction from school leaders around the state was largely positive.
Great news! Pasco District Schools 2017-18 Graduation Rate is 86.7%. Increased a full 5.3% over last year. The State graduation rate is 86.1%. Way to go Pasco!!— Kurt S Browning (@KurtSBrowning) December 19, 2018
Congratulations to the District & Hillsborough High School on our 17-18 Graduation Rates! HHS @ 87.1%! Amazing job by our Students, Parents & Faculty/Staff! #90by20 & Go Big Red!@HCPSArea4 @HillsboroughSch @HillsboroughIB @HHSTodayOnline @All4Schools @Jeff_Eakins @VanAyresHCPS pic.twitter.com/iknIiVIh7V— Hillsborough High (@HHSBigRed) December 19, 2018
Today is a #CCPSProud day! Collier County Public Schools sets a new record high Graduation Rate at 91.9%! That is 3.7 percentage points MORE than last year! Read the full assessment brief here https://t.co/dYHGD3OziW pic.twitter.com/nYS3FB1ban— Collier County Public Schools (@collierschools) December 19, 2018
Congratulations #TeamMDCPS...the graduation rate results are a testament to the tremendous work of our teachers, principals, and support staff. This is a day of celebration and the best holiday gift I could ever hope for. #BeyondThePromise pic.twitter.com/zulQ5JciSj— Alberto M. Carvalho (@MiamiSup) December 19, 2018