As Vernon Parish high schools’ graduation dates approach, the La. Department of Education has announced that the state’s four-year graduation rate increased for a fifth consecutive year in 2015, reaching, an all-time high of 77.5 percent for the class graduating that year.

This represents an increase of 2.9 percentage points over 2014, the second- largest annual gain in the past 10 years, and significantly higher than the national gain of only 0.9 percent.

Vernon schools’ 2016 graduations begin Saturday and extend through Thursday, May 12.

The schedule:

Saturday, May 7— Hornbook, Pitkin and FTCA, all at 2 p.m.;

Sunday, May 8 — Anacoco, 2 p.m.; Simpson, 4 p.m.;

Monday, May 9 — Evans, 6 p.m.; Pickering and Hicks, 7 p.m.; Rosepine, 7:30 p.m.;

Thursday, May 12 — Leesville, 7 p.m. 

Gains by African-American students in the 2015 graduation class outpaced the state as a whole, increasing 3.5 percentage points from 67.9 in 2014 to 71.4. Since 2010, the cohort graduation rate of African-American students has increased 12.5 percentage points, from 58.9 percent.

The announcement continues a significant upward trend in the achievements of Louisiana's high school students since 2012, when BESE began implementing comprehensive high school policy changes including funding the ACT assessment for all students, Jump Start career education pathways, and expansion of Advanced Placement courses.

More than 6,300 more students annually achieve a college-going score on the ACT than did in 2012. Louisiana was also the most-improved state in the nation on ACT tests in 2015 and the second-most improved in the number of graduates achieving an Advanced Placement college credit, according to state DOE officials.

 "Because of the hard work of students, families, and educators, thousands more young people are achieving opportunity for life after high school," said State Superintendent John White.

"At the same time, we must recognize that in today's economy; simply having a high school diploma is not enough to achieve upward mobility and high wage employment. Therefore, we are committed to increasing the graduation rate while making sure a Louisiana high school diploma is the springboard to college, career, and life success."

Successes achieved by class of 2015 reflect a number of critical investments and policies in Louisiana over the last decade. 

• The class of 2015 was the first cohort of students to participate in the state's LA-4 pre-kindergarten program.

• The class of 2015 achieved the highest-performing ACT average composite score of any class since the state required all students to take the ACT, posting an average of 19.4, making Louisiana the most-improved state in the nation that assesses all students;

• More than eight percent of 2015 graduates achieved college credit on an Advanced Placement assessment, a state record, and greater annual improvement than in any state other than Massachusetts.

• Proficiency in core high school subjects exceeded that of any previous graduating class on all End-of-Course tests, with 6.5 percent more students achieving Good or Excellent than in the class of 2014.