SEBRING - The Highlands County School District's 2012-13 graduation rate ranked near the bottom in the state, tying with Glades County for 59th place among the state's 67 counties.
The Florida Department of Education touted the steady increase in Florida's federal graduation rate, stating that it rose again this year to a new mark of 75.6 percent. This continues the upward trend of the percent of Florida students graduating from high school within four years. Florida's federal graduation rate has increased more than five percentage points since 2010-11.
Meanwhile, Highlands' graduation rate went down slightly to 61.8 percent in 2012-13 compared to 62.1 percent in 2011-12.
The only county in the area with a lower graduation rate was DeSoto with 61.6 percent.
The graduation rates for area counties include: Hardee 65.2 percent, Hendry 67.8 percent, Hillsborough 74.1 percent, Okeechobee 63.0 percent and Polk 69.4 percent.
Highlands Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Brenda Longshore said the principals are working hard with their faculties to address the problems and take a close look at the data.
The graduation requirements are "ever changing" with the state mandating different things such as the end-of-course exams, she said.
The AVID program, which is at all the secondary schools, will be making a positive impact with students and seems to have helped graduation rates in some of the counties that have already been involved in the initiative.
AVID is a nationwide college readiness program designed to help students who have college potential.
The graduation rate will be something that they will continue to at look to determine what needs to be done to make improvements, Longshore said.
The graduation rates by ethnicity show Highlands trailing the state in all areas:
White - Highlands 68.8 percent, State 80.5 percent.
Black - Highlands 52.9 percent, State 64.6 percent.
Hispanic - Highlands 58.8 percent, State 74.9 percent.
Asian - Highlands 73.7 percent, State 88.4 percent.
The top five counties with the highest graduation rates in Florida were: Nassau 90.9 percent, Gilchrist 89.7 percent, Lafayette 87.5 percent, Brevard 87.4 percent and St. Johns 86.7 percent.
The graduation rate measures the percentage of students who graduate within four years of their first enrollment in ninth grade. The rate is calculated for an adjusted cohort of students - a group of students on the same schedule to graduate - taking into account those who enter or exit the group. The federal graduation rate is used in calculating high school grades and allows for comparison among states.
Beginning in 2011, federal regulations required states to calculate a four-year graduation rate that includes only standard diplomas. Previously, Florida's official graduation rate included both standard and special diploma recipients. Students who earn a special diploma, a GED-based diploma, a certificate of completion or have been retained and are still in school are not included as graduates in the federal graduation rate.