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America's high school graduation rate hit a new high last year

Gaps between races also narrowed; Minnesota's ranked a little below average

The high school graduation rate in the U.S. reached a new high last year at 83.2 percent, the White House announced Monday.

President Obama highlighted the new numbers in a speech at a Washington, D.C. high school. (You can watch it here.)

The figures were for the 2014-15 school year. Federal officials say since all states started using the same measure of high school completion in 2010-11, the graduation rate has climbed four percent in four years.

The data also showed that black, Hispanic, and Native American students made gains big enough to narrow the gap between their graduation rates and those of their white classmates, even as the overall rate was climbing.

Graduation rates are up for disabled students, those from poor families, and those who speak languages besides English at home. They also rose in 47 states and the District of Columbia.

The state-by-state breakdown shows Minnesota is a little below the national average at 81.9 percent. 32 states had a higher graduation rate, led by neighboring Iowa at 90.8 percent.

Why is the rate going up?

In a statement hailing the rise, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said keeping kids from skipping school – and eventually dropping out – is a key factor in raising the graduation rate.

In his Monday speech President Obama talked about the push to boost pre-school and said stepped-up recruitment and training of teachers is also paying off.

But Education Week – which characterized the president's remarks as a "victory lap" speech – asked some experts who really deserves the political credit for the higher graduation rate. Their consensus: we can't tell.

For example, Laura Hamilton of the think tank RAND Education told the journal that – while it's certainly good news – it can't be traced to any particular initiative and could result from the old No Child Left Behind Act as well as from more recent steps.

"We need more evidence before we can attribute it to any particular administration or to state or federal dollars," Hamilton told Education Week.

National Public Radio noted that the rising graduation rate comes even as high school students' test scores are either flat, as with a test called The Nation's Report Card, or falling, as with the ACT and the SAT.

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