There’s good news in public education statewide, and the public schools in our area can be proud of having a part in it.

The state graduation rate is improving, and was at 80 percent for 2013. That’s up 5 points from a year ago, and up 8 percent from just two years ago, and up 13 percent from 2007.

That’s when all the states agreed to start using the same types of statistics to measure graduation rates to define it as the percentage of entering freshmen who graduate on time in four years. Just this week the U.S. Department of Education released figures from the first year — the year Alabama’s rate was 72 percent — which showed Alabama in the middle of the pack. Vermont and Wisconsin led the nation that year at 91 percent. Nevada brought up the rear at 58 percent, with New Mexico, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina near the bottom. It will be interesting to compare more recent state-by-state numbers when they are available.

Numbers at our local schools vary, but for the most part they mirror the improvements being made across the state.

Talladega High School had a significant improvement since 2008, improving from 63 percent to 80 percent. Numbers have gone up, down, and back up again with a renewed emphasis on helping students stay on track and complete their goals.

State Department of Education figures show Talladega County ahead of the curve at 84 percent overall, with Fayetteville at 95 percent, Munford at 90, Talladega County Central at 89, Lincoln at 85, Winterboro and Childersburg both at 82 and B.B. Comer at 71 percent.

Sylacauga High School is listed with an 80 percent rate and Pell City High School with an 87 percent rate.

Statewide, a 1 percent difference works out to about 600 students. Bice points out that in the past two years, 4,800 more students have not only graduated from high school, but graduated on time, thanks to a renewed focus on helping students stay in school and stay on track.

That comes from helping them identify their skills and abilities and realize the potential for their future careers. Alabama’s education initiative PLAN 2020 calls for all students to enter the ninth-grade prepared with a four-year plan based on their individual academic and career goals based on an eighth-grade career assessment.

Early results seem to be working with the improvements seen so far. That translates into a better quality of life for the graduates, and a better chance of success in college and career opportunities. High school graduates are less likely to be unemployed or underemployed, less likely to receive public assistance, and less likely to get in trouble with the criminal justice system.

We applaud the efforts being made by school staff, students and others who encourage our young people to become the best they can be, and to make the most of the opportunities they have to improve themselves by taking their school work seriously. It’s easy for young people to dismiss schoolwork as a burden imposed upon them; harder to recognize how it can help them set and reach higher goals in life.

Most of our local schools are at or above the state average graduation rate of 80 percent, and efforts are being made to help more students get their diplomas on time.

Nine schools in the state had 99 percent ratings: Cedar Bluff, Paint Rock Valley, Vina, Gaston, Ramsay and Vestavia high schools and Loveless Academy and Brewbaker Tech magnet schools. Greenville High in Butler County brought up the rear with a 60 percent rate.

We’re proud of the efforts being made to help our young people become their best. Every person and every school community is different, and changes in our culture and society bring a constantly evolving challenge to educators to meet the students where they are and help them on a solid path to the future.

The progress being made in graduation rates means those efforts are paying off.