Ooltewah High School seniors say the Pledge of Allegiance during their graduation ceremony at Memorial Auditorium in 2011. The graduating class included more than 250 students.
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Graduates sit at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's commencement ceremony for the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering and Computer Science at McKenzie Arena.

Statewide Numbers

  • About 60 percent of school districts had graduation rates at or above 90 percent for the last two school years.

  • More than 70 percent of school districts had graduation rates at or above 90 percent for 2015-16, up from 81 school districts last year.

  • Six districts had graduation rates at or above 99 percent: Fentress County, Alcoa City, South Carroll Special School District, Milan Special School District, Meigs County and Crockett County.

As the state's high school graduation rate jumped nearly 1 percent from last year, Hamilton County Schools' average slipped, trailing the state average by nearly 5 percentage points.

Tennessee's graduation rate is 88.5 percent, according to data released Tuesday, and this is a new record for the state since it changed to a more rigorous graduation calculation in 2011.

Hamilton County Schools' average graduation rate fell to 83.8 percent last school year. It was 85.4 percent during the 2014-2015 school year, according to state data.

Kirk Kelly, interim superintendent of the Hamilton County Department of Education, said he is aware of the number and is working to address it.

"We've got some work to do, but we're ready for the challenge to do it. And we really feel that some of the stuff we are starting this year is going to make a change," Kelly said.

The district is working to create additional career and technical education opportunities for students who may not think school is good for them, he said. He added that this training will also provide them with a better opportunity for a career.

A school-by-school breakdown of graduation rates will be released later this fall.

Across the state, nearly 60 percent of districts saw an improvement on their graduation rates or stayed the same when compared to the 2014-2015 school year.

The state calculates the graduation rate based on the number of students who graduate within four years plus a summer, and before 2011, students had five years and a summer to be counted.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said schools and districts should be proud of the work they've done to support students on their journey beyond high school graduation.

"High school graduation is a critical step in allowing students to embark on their chosen paths in life," McQueen said. "However, as more Tennessee students are earning their diplomas, we must ensure that they are all leaving with the knowledge and skills to be successful in college and the workforce."

Staff writer Emmett Gienapp contributed to this story.

Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at 423-757-6592 or Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.