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Graduates celebrate at the end of Centennial High School graduation ceremony for the class of 2013.

Graduation rates in the Kern High School District for 2012-2013 dropped a bit from the previous year's rate and remained below the overall state and national averages.

According to the California Department of Education, 79 percent of students that started as freshman graduated during the 2012-13 school year compared to 80.8 percent of the cohort graduating in the 2011-12 school year.

Overall, Kern County's graduation rate was 76 percent compared to 76.2 in 2011-2012.

While KHSD lagged slightly behind both the state and national graduation rate of 80 percent, overall local dropout rates improved slightly, from 14.4 percent in 2011-2012 to 14.1 percent last year.

The number of black and Hispanic KHSD students who dropped out also declined. Among blacks the rate dropped from 17.6 percent to 17.1 percent; among Hispanics it fell from 16.5 percent to 14.8 percent.

But graduation rates among KHSD black and Hispanic students dropped.

Among blacks, the rate dropped from 77.6 percent graduating to 73.5 percent and among Hispanics, from 78 percent to 77.4 percent.

Graduation rates do not include students in special education or GED programs and also excludes those who take more than four years to graduate.

Patrick Jackson, president of the NAACP Bakersfield Branch, said the NAACP has been watching graduation rates for about five years.

"Of course we're not excited about the numbers," he said. "It benefits us as a community to understand that this is a state of emergency."

Both Jackson and Erika Brooks, education program manager of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, mentioned organizational changes they hope will lead to across-the-board improvements in educational climate and achievement.

-- Lauren Foreman