Graduation rates in Illinois high schools went down between 2011 and 2013.National Journal

More students are graduating from high school than ever before, and that number could rise again with this year's seniors.

The national graduation rate for the 2012-2013 school year was 81 percent, which was up from 80 percent the year before and 79 percent the year before that, according to the Education Department. This sort of growth is possible as a result of the huge improvements in Black and Latino graduation rates. But it's also due to specific state improvements.

If this trend continues, the national graduation rate could reach 90 percent by 2020, according to a report from Civic Enterprises and Johns Hopkins University. But stagnation in certain states could keep the national average down.

Using data from that study, we ranked and graded the states with the most- and least-improved graduation rates from 2011 to 2013.

MOST IMPROVED STATES

1) Nevada


Western High School in Las Vegas. (Bryan Steffy/Getty Images)2011: 62%

2013: 71%

Grade: A

Despite having a graduation rate well below the national average at 71 percent, the state has improved drastically from the 62 percent graduation rate in 2011. Part of that growth is due to the 11.4-point increase in Latino graduation rates over the three-year period.

2) Alabama


A High School marching band crosses the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. (ROBERT SULLIVAN/AFP/Getty Images)2011: 72%

2013: 80%

Grade: A-

Alabama is on pace toward reaching a 90 percent graduation rate in the coming years, boosted by improvements in its large Black enrollment. The gap between Black and White graduation rates was narrowed by 5 percentage points between 2011 and 2013.

3) New Mexico

+ New Mexico state football playoff game between the Roswell Coyotes and Artesia Bulldogs. (Kathy Burns-Millyard/Shutterstock.com)2011: 63%

2013: 70%

Grade: A-

The graduation rate among Latinos in this state rose 9 percentage points in the three-year period. Considering that Latinos comprise 57 percent of enrollment, that gain was a boost for the state's overall numbers. Poverty remains a difficult issue for the state. Around half of students in the state live in high-poverty areas, well above the national average of 20 percent. The overall graduation rate is still low at 70 percent.

4) Utah

+ Salk Lake City high school bands. (Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)2011: 76%

2013: 83%

Grade: B+

Part of the growth in Utah is due to the 13.4 percentage-point rise in Latino graduation rates between 2011 and 2013. The state already has an above-average overall graduation rate of 83 percent, and it continues to rise.

5) Georgia

+ Columbia High School students in Decatur. (Catrina Maxwell/Getty Images)2011: 67%

2013: 72%

Grade: B+

Around 3 percent of the nation's high school students live in Georgia. With one of the largest enrollments in the country, growth in the Peach State certainly helps the national average. But the state's average still lags at around 72 percent.

LEAST IMPROVED STATES

1) Arizona

+ St. Mary's women's high school basketball team. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)2011: 78%

2013: 75%

Grade: F

Graduation rates among Latinos dipped into the 60s, hurting the state's overall graduation rate since Latinos make up more than 30 percent of high school enrollment. Some sort of state-level variable could also be to blame for the decrease, since each school district in the state went down.

2) Wyoming

+ Wyoming Worland High School All-State Marching Band. (dashingstock/Shutterstock.com)2011: 80%

2013: 77%

Grade: F

Wyoming is one of the 10 worst states for graduating low-income students, despite their small numbers. The graduation rate for Latino students also went down 3 percentage points.

3) Illinois

+ Dyett High School Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps in Chicago. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)2011: 84%

2013: 83%

Grade: D

Considering that 4.1 percent of the nation's students live in this state, the graduation-rate stagnation should be concerning for the overall outlook of U.S. graduation rates. The gap between White and Black graduation rates continues to widen, along with the gap between low-income and high-income students. The graduation rate among Black students declined 3 percentage points, as well.

4) New York

+ Shoreham Wading River High School football team on Long Island. (Andrew Theodorakis/Getty Images)2011: 77

2013: 77

Grade: C

New York's four largest districts are seeing declining graduation rates as the state's average, at 77 percent, is still below the national average. The graduation rate for Latinos is 20 points below the overall national average. (South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington would also get a C for their stagnant graduation rates.)

5) Wisconsin

+ Slinger High School marching band. (BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)2011: 87%

2013: 88%

Grade: C+

Even though the graduation rate is well above the national average, the state still didn't do much to close the gap between Black and White graduation rates.

MOST IMPROVED STATES

1) Nevada


Western High School in Las Vegas. (Bryan Steffy/Getty Images)2011: 62%

2013: 71%

Grade: A

Despite having a graduation rate well below the national average at 71 percent, the state has improved drastically from the 62 percent graduation rate in 2011. Part of that growth is due to the 11.4-point increase in Latino graduation rates over the three-year period.

2) Alabama


A High School marching band crosses the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. (ROBERT SULLIVAN/AFP/Getty Images)2011: 72%

2013: 80%

Grade: A-

Alabama is on pace toward reaching a 90 percent graduation rate in the coming years, boosted by improvements in its large Black enrollment. The gap between Black and White graduation rates was narrowed by 5 percentage points between 2011 and 2013.

3) New Mexico

+ New Mexico state football playoff game between the Roswell Coyotes and Artesia Bulldogs. (Kathy Burns-Millyard/Shutterstock.com)2011: 63%

2013: 70%

Grade: A-

The graduation rate among Latinos in this state rose 9 percentage points in the three-year period. Considering that Latinos comprise 57 percent of enrollment, that gain was a boost for the state's overall numbers. Poverty remains a difficult issue for the state. Around half of students in the state live in high-poverty areas, well above the national average of 20 percent. The overall graduation rate is still low at 70 percent.

4) Utah

+ Salk Lake City high school bands. (Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)2011: 76%

2013: 83%

Grade: B+

Part of the growth in Utah is due to the 13.4 percentage-point rise in Latino graduation rates between 2011 and 2013. The state already has an above-average overall graduation rate of 83 percent, and it continues to rise.

5) Georgia

+ Columbia High School students in Decatur. (Catrina Maxwell/Getty Images)2011: 67%

2013: 72%

Grade: B+

Around 3 percent of the nation's high school students live in Georgia. With one of the largest enrollments in the country, growth in the Peach State certainly helps the national average. But the state's average still lags at around 72 percent.

LEAST IMPROVED STATES

1) Arizona

+ St. Mary's women's high school basketball team. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)2011: 78%

2013: 75%

Grade: F

Graduation rates among Latinos dipped into the 60s, hurting the state's overall graduation rate since Latinos make up more than 30 percent of high school enrollment. Some sort of state-level variable could also be to blame for the decrease, since each school district in the state went down.

2) Wyoming

+ Wyoming Worland High School All-State Marching Band. (dashingstock/Shutterstock.com)2011: 80%

2013: 77%

Grade: F

Wyoming is one of the 10 worst states for graduating low-income students, despite their small numbers. The graduation rate for Latino students also went down 3 percentage points.

3) Illinois

+ Dyett High School Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps in Chicago. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)2011: 84%

2013: 83%

Grade: D

Considering that 4.1 percent of the nation's students live in this state, the graduation-rate stagnation should be concerning for the overall outlook of U.S. graduation rates. The gap between White and Black graduation rates continues to widen, along with the gap between low-income and high-income students. The graduation rate among Black students declined 3 percentage points, as well.

4) New York

+ Shoreham Wading River High School football team on Long Island. (Andrew Theodorakis/Getty Images)2011: 77

2013: 77

Grade: C

New York's four largest districts are seeing declining graduation rates as the state's average, at 77 percent, is still below the national average. The graduation rate for Latinos is 20 points below the overall national average. (South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington would also get a C for their stagnant graduation rates.)

5) Wisconsin

+ Slinger High School marching band. (BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)2011: 87%

2013: 88%

Grade: C+

Even though the graduation rate is well above the national average, the state still didn't do much to close the gap between Black and White graduation rates.

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