New Jersey's public high school graduation rate continues to improve, rising one percentage point to 87.5 percent in 2013, according to data released Wednesday by the New Jersey Department of Education. The rate has increased four percentage points since the state began using a new formula in 2011 that requires districts to more accurately track each student from the time they enter as a freshman until they graduate. Adjustments are also made for students who transfer in or out during that four years.

State officials said they believe the graduation rate is getting more accurate as districts become more familiar with the new formula and with how to track students. Districts with one-year variations of more than 5 percent and those with large numbers of unverified transfers were directly contacted by the state to review data collection.

The graduation rate increased for all subgroups, except for students with limited English proficiency, where the rate over two years dropped from 73 percent in 2012 to 71 percent in 2013. That subgroup has the lowest graduation rate among all groups tracked.

Locally, Hammonton has shown the greatest increase in its graduation rate, going from 83 percent in 2011 to 90 percent in 2013. High school Principal Thomas Ramsay said there has been a concerted effort to help students stay in school. The district does an after-school program for juniors in January and February to help them prepare for the high school test, and has a summer program for incoming seniors who need to retake the test their senior year. There is also supplemental tutoring during the school year.

"There is no one magic formula, or we'd all be using it," Ramsay said. "We've done staff training, gotten parents more involved and added more technology and programs students are interested in so they will also buy into the importance of staying in school."

He said it is good to see positive results because that helps motivate everyone to keep working at it.

Pleasantville also showed improvement, though it is still below the state average. The high school's graduation rate rose from 64 percent in 2011 to 70 percent in 2013.

Locally, three high schools in Atlantic County, two in Cape May County and all high schools in Cumberland County had graduation rates below the state average. All of those schools also have high percentages of low-income, minority and limited-English students.

The graduation rate at Vineland High School has dropped the most over the last three years, going from 83 percent to 73.5 percent at the high school. Assistant Superintendent Ruth Poloff said in an email that the numbers reflect dropout rates and the number of students who require more than four years to complete high school due to failing the state test, not having enough credits, or having special needs that allow them to remain in high school. She said the five-year graduation rate for 2013 is almost 80 percent.

The state has started to add the five-year graduation rate to state school performance reports in recognition of students who take longer than four years to graduate but do eventually get a diploma. Statewide, of the 108,676 students in the adjusted cohort of students, 5,681 students continued in high school past four-years in 2013. Another 4,452 dropped out, and 6,883 were exempt from the cohort. There were almost 3,452 students who left but whose transfer to another school could not be verified.

Contact Diane D'Amico:

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