New York state's overall four-year graduation rate continued its slow climb, reaching 79.4 percent for the class of 2016, according to data the state released Friday.
The 1.3 percent increase extended a streak of gains that has pushed the rate up 12 percent in last decade.
Black and Hispanic students, those in large urban districts and students with disabilities were among those gaining ground on the statewide numbers, though gaps remained.
"Overall, we are seeing progress in an environment of more difficult standards," Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said on a conference call with reporters.
New York City saw a 2.4 percent increase in the overall graduation rate, to just under 70 percent, leading Mayor Bill de Blasio to call the public schools "unquestionably the strongest they've ever been."
But the nation's largest district also was the driver behind a 7.2 percent decline in the statewide graduation rate for English language learners, the data showed. Just 27 percent of current New York City ELLs who started high school in 2012 graduated on time, and the same percentage dropped out, according to the data.
The New York State United Teachers union called for "urgent action" to support those students, including increased state funding for their school districts.
"This is an area that we are all very concerned about," Elia said.
New York City education officials attributed the ELL decline to many students shedding their ELL status by the time they reached senior year, leaving a larger percentage of needier students in the group. Students who are no longer considered ELLs posted a graduation rate of more than 80 percent, better than the statewide rate.
[NATL] Unbelievable Animal Stories: Dog Befriends Abandoned Baby Giraffe
Among large urban districts, Syracuse led in gains, increasing its overall graduation rate by 6.4 percent, to 61 percent. The other so-called Big Five school districts of Buffalo, Rochester and Yonkers had graduation rates of 61.7 percent, 47.5 percent and 77.5 percent, respectively.
"We have worked diligently to improve the conditions in our schools," Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner said, "improving school buildings ... increasing career and technical education options and cultivating a culture of success."
New York state has 2.6 million students in public schools. The class of 2016 had about 208,000 students.