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Across the board, more students than ever are graduating from California's public schools. A six-year trend line is showing positive results for every group and category in the state's high school classrooms.

The results may be surprising in a state where battles over finances, testing and teacher rules present a picture of deep divisions and confusion. But underlying these debates is slow and steady progress that's pushed the graduation rate to 82 percent for those who started high school in 2011.

The numbers get better the more they're broken down. Though differences separate subgroups, the biggest jumps were recorded among those drawing the most concern: English learners, dropouts, African Americans and Hispanic students. Though these student groups lagged the state average, their historically low graduation rates moved up markedly.

The reasons for the improvement are a mix. A much-contested exit exam was suspended last year, suggesting that change contributed to the surge. But the trend has evolved over six years, beginning well before the exam was halted.

Another explanation may be more likely: More money is producing better schools. Additional state money has poured into low-income school districts to shore up teaching while other districts have increased class offerings after recession-era cuts to the curriculum. Increases in the overall state budget are earmarked in large part for public schools.

Pleasing as the figures are, they still mean nearly 20 percent of high school students don't graduate, severely harming their economic and social futures. Improving this picture remains a huge challenge in a state divided by income, language and family background. California's schools still have work to do.

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