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Utah's public high schools continued to improve graduation rates in 2016, lifting the statewide rate 1 percentage point to 85 percent.
The latest increase adds to a trend that has seen graduation rates improve by 7 percentage points since 2012, according to data released Tuesday by the Utah Board of Education.
In a prepared statement, State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson said education leaders would closely examine graduation data to ensure that Utah children are prepared for college enrollment and careers.
"A high school diploma is a crucial step for any Utah student who wants to succeed in the global marketplace," she said.
Utah's graduation rate has climbed by 1 percentage point annually for each of the past three years.
That pace would put the state on track to reach 89 percent in 2020, just shy of a statewide goal to graduate 90 percent of high school students by that year.
But sustained increases become more difficult as the overall rate improves, according to Mark Peterson, spokesman for the office of the Utah Board of Education.
"The higher you get," he said, "the harder the push."
Peterson noted that many areas of the state, including Utah's largest school district, Alpine, have already reached the state's graduation goal.
"If you take the 16 highest districts and 16 highest charter schools, they all have rates at 90 percent or better," he said.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert congratulated Utah's students in a statement to The Salt Lake Tribune.
"Today's announcement is solid evidence that we are making steady progress toward our goal," he said. "Utah's students should be applauded for their hard work."
Demographic data show stagnant graduation rates of 87 percent and 74 percent, respectively, for white and Latino students.
But among black students, the graduation rate swelled 5 percentage points to 73 percent in 2016, nearly matching Latino students.
"It's a small population but over the last five years they're up 12 percent," Peterson said. "They're going up at almost twice the rate of the overall increase."
Graduation rates remained less than 70 percent for students with disabilities and English language learners, the data show.
"That's where we're going to be able to see our biggest gains," Peterson said.
Among Utah's 41 school districts, Juab and Carbon tied for the highest graduation rate at 97 percent.
And two charter schools Academy for Math, Engineering and Science and Rockwell Charter High School earned graduation rates of 98 percent or higher. The graduating classes at those schools include fewer than 40 students each, and state law restricts releasing precise rates for small numbers of students.
Twitter: @bjaminwood Highest school district graduation rates
Carbon School District: 97 percent
Juab School District: 97 percent
North Summit School District: >95 percent
Cache County School District: 94 percent
Davis School District: 94 percent
Millard School District: 93 percent
Kane County School District: 92 percent
Morgan School District: 92 percent
Alpine School District: 91 percent
North Sanpete School District: 91 percent
Park City School District: 91 percent
South Summit School District: 91 percent
Tintic School District: 91 percent
Tooele County School District: 91 percent