More and more Virginians are graduating from high school on time. And black and Hispanic students, as well as those from poor families, continue to chip away at the diploma gaps that for years have separated them from their white, middle-class peers.

(Patrick Reddy/AP)

More than 86 percent of students who started ninth grade in 2007 received diplomas in 2011, an increase of one percentage point over 2010. The grad rate for black students climbed about one percentage point, to 80.3 percent, and for Hispanic students it rose three points to 79.1 percent. Economically disadvantaged kids graduated at a rate of 79.9 percent, up two points.

Females graduated at a higher rate than males statewide--and in 116 of 131 school divisions, by my count. (Virginia’s not alone when it comes to the gender gap — See “Why Boys Fail” by journalist Richard Whitmire.)

The numbers include those students who graduate within four years, but leave out more than 1,000 who are predicted to finish their diplomas within five or six years.

In Northern Virginia, graduation rates are generally higher than state averages. But the numbers mirror the statewide pattern of persistent — yet narrowing — achievement gaps.

In Fairfax County, for example, the white graduation rate has risen one point (to 96.3 percent) since 2008. During the same time, the rate for black students has gone up more than two points (to 87.6 percent), and for Hispanic students it has risen four points (to 77.4 percent). That’s still a big spread, but it’s an improvement.

Schools spokesman Paul Regnier said the gap is narrowing because the school system has provided more teachers and other resources to schools with high numbers of poor children and non-native English speakers.

“We do give extra resources to those kids because we understand that they need more resources to achieve that other kids may need,” he said

The number of needy children has grown in Fairfax, as it has around the Washington area. For example, there were 192 homeless seniors in the county in 2011 — more than double the number in 2008, a striking reflection of the recession’s toll on families and kids. About 68 percent of those homeless students graduated on time this year.

Fairfax was among the region’s highest overall performers. Others were tiny Falls Church (where 96.6 percent of all seniors graduate on time); high-income Loudoun (95.3 percent); and Fauquier, out there at the foot of the Blue Ridge (90.4 percent).

In the next tier are Prince William (88.8 percent) and Arlington (87.5). Both have subgroups that have made considerable gains since 2008. For example, black students in Arlington now graduate at a rate that exceeds the system’s overall average. (That group’s number is up 12 points, to 88 percent.)

Two other systems fell short of the state average but continued their upward trend: Alexandria (79.2 percent) and Manassas City (77 percent).

State officials said more students (47.3 percent) earned an advanced studies diploma than in years past.

“The progress our schools have made in raising graduation rates is due to the efforts of hundreds of teachers, counselors, principals and other educators across the commonwealth who refused to give up on even the most challenging students,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright in a statement.