Graduation rate for blacks rises to equal whites' Census cites improvement in period from 1985 to 1995


WASHINGTON -- Young adult African-Americans who are now in their late 20s graduated from high school at the same rates as whites, a change that educators say could herald greater black economic success and equality.

The Census finding, released yesterday, was the first to show equal graduation rates between the two races.

"It's really highly significant," said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of the nation's 50 largest urban school districts.

"There has not been a time when there was not a gap in graduation rates of whites and blacks," he said. "It's not an indication that all gaps have been eliminated and the mountain has been scaled, but it's an extremely positive indicator that the effort of a lot of schools that have been focusing on dropout prevention has been bearing fruit."

Between 1985 and 1995, the Census Bureau reported, the proportion of high school graduates among blacks ages 25 to 29 jumped 6 percentage points -- from 81 percent to 87 percent -- and caught up with the rate for whites in the same age group.

The white graduation rate was also 87 percent in 1985.

Despite the news, some educators expressed concern that academic requirements for employment were still rising faster than education was spreading.

Also, recent reports on high school students' academic performance might indicate black and white graduates have not performed equally well.

To high school officials around the country, the statistics were a welcome indication that programs they have adopted are working.

"It used to be that some youngsters would skip out of class and go hang out at the 7-Eleven," said Henry Fraind, associate superintendent of Dade County public schools in Miami.

But strict truancy laws and attendance programs have changed that in his city, he said.

One factor may dampen the celebration: The National Assessment of Educational Progress, which measures student proficiency at 9, 13 and 17 years of age in reading, writing, math and science, and is a predictor of high school graduation rates and future academic progress, is not optimistic about the future.

"The white-black achievement gap narrowed in the '70s and the '80s," said Nabeel Alsalam, a statistician at the National Center for Education Statistics, "but has not narrowed further in the '90s."

Pub Date: 9/06/96

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