Graduation rates statewide are improving — they now average nearly 69 percent in four years — and in New York City, the 4-year graduation rate has exceeded 50 percent for the first time, for students entering 9th grade in 2003, according to data released this morning by the State Education Department.

The state calculated both June and August graduation rates for the first time this year, finding that an additional 3.5 percent of New York City students graduated after completing summer school in 2007. And a fifth year of high school added 10 percentage points to the city’s graduation rate for students who were in 9th grade in 2002, education officials noted.

Despite the general upward trend, the newest graduation data broadcast a handful of serious problems. Tens of thousands of students continue to drop out without completing high school, officials noted in an extensive presentation, and the graduation rate for English language learners is actually declining. In addition, only a tiny proportion of students with disabilities earn a Regents diploma in four years, and there remains a graduation gap among students of different races.

Last year, Chancellor Klein announced a 60 percent graduation rate for the class of 2006, a figure that contrasted sharply with the state’s data, which put the 4-year graduation rate at a touch under 50 percent. At the time, the city was using a formula that excluded special education students but counted both August graduates and those earning a GED rather than a high school diploma. This year, the city has agreed to adopt the state’s method of calculating graduation rates as its official method. For comparison’s sake, I wonder what the DOE’s old formula would say about the graduation rate of students who entered high school in 2003.