The number of students who graduated from D.C. Public Schools in four years increased by three percentage points to 56 percent last year, but the system's chief said DCPS would have to pick up the pace and make stronger gains to meet its goals.

"I take it as an indication that we are going in the right direction but it's no reason to be celebrating," Chancellor Kaya Henderson said Thursday after the city released the numbers.

D.C. Public Schools has set a goal of having 75 percent of its freshmen graduate within four years by 2017, as part of its "Capital Commitment" five-year strategic plan.

Higher highs, lower lows
Top 5 DCPS
Benjamin Banneker 98%
Duke Ellington 96%
School Without Walls 92%
McKinley Tech 91%
Phelps ACE 90%
Bottom 5 DCPS
Washington Metropolitan 34%
Luke Moore Alternative 36%
Anacostia 40%
Cardozo 42%
Roosevelt 48%
Top 5 charter
Washington Latin 93%
Friendship - Collegiate Academy 91%
SEED 87%
Washington Math Science & Technology 87%
IDEA 79%
Bottom 5 charter
Hospitality 50%
Maya Angelou - Evans campus 51%
Options 57%
Cesar Chavez - Capitol Hill campus 64%
Cesar Chavez - Parkside Upper campus 70%

"A three-percent increase is not going to get me there," Henderson said.

Last year was the first time the school system calculated its "on-time" graduation rate, which looks at the number of students who start with the school system in the ninth grade, rather than just calculating how many seniors graduate in a given year.

It was a sobering moment for the school system, whose graduation rate didn't seem so terrible at 73 percent under the old method. Instead, 53 percent of students graduated within four years in the 2010-2011 school year, a number which increased to 56 percent in 2011-2012. The number of four-year graduates for alternative schools increased by 12 percentage points.

Meanwhile, on-time graduation in the city's public charter schools decreased last year, from 80 percent to 77 percent. Statewide, the graduation rate increased from 59 percent to 61 percent.

Although the charters' number is well above D.C. Public Schools' average, Henderson pointed out that some of the city's charter schools kick out students who don't attend summer sessions or miss a certain number of days of school. These students come to Henderson's school system, and are reflected in DCPS' graduation rate.

Scott Pearson, executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said the downturn in diplomas was due to "more stringent" data collection over last year, the first year of the new rate.

"While we welcome the increased rigor, we also recognize that it had some effect on school graduation percentages," Pearson said.

Washington Latin Public Charter School had the highest rate among the city's charters, with 93.2 percent of students graduating on-time last spring. Friendship Public Charter School's Collegiate Academy was close behind, with 90.7 percent of students earning diplomas within four years.

It was D.C. Public Schools' magnet programs, however, which boasted the highest graduation rates in the city. Benjamin Banneker Academic High School graduated 98 percent of its students within four years, followed by Duke Ellington School of the Arts at 96 percent and School Without Walls at 92 percent.