Graduation rates of public school students are climbing, with 78.5 percent of California students who started as freshmen graduating in 2012, the state Department of Education reported Tuesday.
The overall graduation rate increased 1.4 percentage points from 2011.
At the same time, the statewide dropout rate fell to 13.2 percent, with a smaller percentage of minority students dropping out. The graduation rate for African-American students increased nearly 3 percentage points, to 65.7 percent. For Latino students, the graduation rate increased 1.8 percentage points to 73.2 percent.
"We are pleased to see the progress," state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said. "There are great things happening in California schools every day."
The numbers reflect the percentage of entering freshmen who graduated within four years or dropped out. The two figures don't add up to 100 percent because they don't include students who left the state or remained in school without graduating.
To sustain the progress, education officials called for adequate school funding to return counselors to campuses, in order to help curb absenteeism, guide students in course selection and help prevent dropouts.
Santa Clara, San Mateo and Contra Costa counties graduated a higher percentage of their students, and saw a lower proportion drop out, than the statewide average. Alameda County's 79.4 percent graduation rate was higher than the state's, but so was its 13.4 percent dropout rate.
In Santa Clara County, the extremes in gains and scores were found in South County districts. Gilroy Unified increased its graduation rate from 78 percent to 85 percent. For Latino students, who make up 71 percent of Gilroy's student body, the graduation rate leapt from 72.2 percent to 81.9 percent. The Latino dropout rate in Gilroy fell from 17.9 percent to 17.8 percent.
"We're very pleased with the results and very excited to see the strategies we've put in place have made a difference," said Gilroy Superintendent Debbie Flores. The district instituted various programs for students on the verge of dropping out and reached out to dropouts as well. At the same time, it bumped up high school expectations, to graduate more students prepared for college.
Neighboring Morgan Hill Unified posted the lowest overall graduation rate in the county, 78.4 percent, down from 79.7 percent a year before. However, its rate for Latino students increased, from 68.5 percent to 72.1 percent.
East Side Union posted the lowest Latino graduation rate in the county, 68.6 percent -- but that was up nearly 3 percentage points from 2011.
In San Mateo County, graduation rates generally nudged up while dropout rates declined. An exception was the Sequoia Union High School District, where the graduation rate fell to 80 percent last year, from 85.5 percent the year before. Likewise, the dropout rate jumped from 8 percent to 12.4 percent in the same time. Graduation rates dropped sharply among the district's Latino students, from 77 percent to 68.9 percent last year, while one in five dropped out.
Castro Valley had Alameda County's highest Latino graduation rate, 95.4 percent, while Emery Unified had the lowest, 50 percent -- although it had 10 or fewer Latino students.
In Oakland Unified, only 52.1 percent of Latinos and 53.2 percent of African-Americans graduated. The overall district graduation rate rose half a percentage point to 58.9 percent, and the dropout rate fell from 28.1 percent to 25.5 percent last year.
"We're pleased to see continued improvement," Oakland Unified District spokesman Troy Flint said. "At the same time the numbers aren't nearly where they should be."
The district has focused on engaging more students, through creating career academies -- with courses linked to internships, technical training and support services -- and also by reworking discipline procedures.
In West Contra Costa Unified, the graduation rate fell nearly 2 percentage points to 75.2 percent, and the dropout rate rose more than half a percentage point to 18.6 percent.
For Mount Diablo Unified, the graduation rate fell slightly, to 81.1 percent, while the dropout rate climbed 2.5 percentage points to 14.2 percent.
Acalanes Union High posted the highest graduation rate in Contra Costa County -- 97.3 percent -- and its Latino and students also posted a county highs, 93.7 percent.
Elsewhere in the Tri-Valley area, graduation rates were in the 90s -- but rates for Latino and African-American students in each district were in the 80s.
Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/noguchionk12.