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North Carolina education leaders say four-year high school graduation rates edged higher in 2016.

North Carolina students recorded slight gains in their math and reading proficiency, graduation rates, and readiness for college careers during the past school year, the 11th consecutive year in which progress has been made, the state Department of Public Instruction said Thursday.

"Many schools face significant challenges in terms of critical resources and student needs, but these results show that hard-working educators are making a difference and that students are making gains in their learning," State Superintendent June Atkinson said in a statement.

End-of-grade performance in both reading and mathematics showed 35.4 percent of students as proficient in the two subjects, up from 33.8 percent in the previous school year. For math only, the figures jumped from 44.1 percent to 47 percent, while the increase in reading was more modest, rising from 45.1 percent in 2014-15 to 45.8 percent in 2015-16.

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"If I could do a back flip about the graduation rate I would do that," Atkinson said.

The results also showed modest gains in grade-level proficiency. Proficiency in reading and math rose from 43.5 percent of students in 2014-15 to 45 percent in 2015-16. In math only, proficiency rose to 54.7 percent from 52.2 percent, while in reading it rose by just 0.6 percentage points, to 56.5 percent.

In grades three through eight, student proficiency edged up to 56.9 percent from 56.3 percent in 2014-15. In math, overall proficiency increased to 54.7 percent from 52.2 percent. Grade-level proficiency in science reached 71.6 percent in fifth grade, 73.9 percent in eighth grade and 55.5 percent in high school biology.

Graduation rates also rose, reaching 85.8 percent, up a fraction from 85.6 percent in the previous school year.

At Raleigh's Sanderson High School, 89 percent of seniors are graduating.

"We're addressing this issue really at the ninth-grade level and not really just taking a look at the seniors," said Sanderson Principal Dr. Greg Decker. "We're trying to be much more proactive than reactive."

Four-year graduation rates among all groups exceeded 80 percent for the first time. Students from low-income families jumped a full percentage point from last school year to 80.6 percent, while the rate for black students increased by 0.7 percentage points, to 82.9 percent. Among Hispanics, the increase was 0.1 percentage points, to 80.1 percent.

Public schools in general fared better in 2015-16 than they had in the previous school year, according to the report. Nearly a third of North Carolina's 2,459 traditional public and charter schools achieved A's and B's for the year, while the proportion of schools receiving D's and F's fell to less than a quarter of all schools.

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