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Niagara County schools showed small gains and minor losses in the percentages of their high school students graduating in four years in 2012, according to data released Monday by the state Education Department.

Biggest improvement was seen at North Tonawanda High School, where the rate bounced back to 84 percent after dropping from 84 to 77 percent between 2010 and 2011. Barker High School experienced a similar rebound from 91 to 96 percent, almost regaining its 97 percent rate from 2010.

The sharpest decline came at Newfane Senior High School, where the rate fell to 83 percent from 89 percent in 2011. Newfane’s rate was 86 percent in 2010.

Niagara Falls High School registered an increase from 69 to 70 percent, but was still down from 75 percent in 2010. Lockport High School remained steady at 84 percent for the third year in a row.

Lewiston-Porter Senior High School posted the highest graduation rate in the county for the second straight year – 97 percent. In 2011, it had 100 percent.

In Erie County, high schools outside Buffalo showed modest gains and losses.

Within the city is another story entirely. No longer do more than half of Buffalo’s students graduate from high school within four years. The Buffalo graduation rate was 47 percent, compared with 54 percent in 2011.

The Rochester school district did even more poorly, with only 43 percent of students graduating within four years.

Buffalo showed the sharpest decline among the five largest school districts in the state, causing the Education Department to red-flag the city in its statewide news release.

“Graduation rates for four of the Big 5 school districts remained relatively stable,” the release stated. “However, Buffalo’s graduation rate dropped by more than seven percentage points.” The other Big 5 schools ranked include Yonkers, with a graduation rate of 66 percent; New York City, with 60 percent; and Syracuse, with 48 percent.

Buffalo’s 2012 graduation rate erases the gains the district made in 2011 and puts the city school district back at roughly the same graduation level it had in 2010.

The picture is bleaker when looking at the school-by-school breakdowns. Among the 20 city public and charter high schools, only four showed any gains, while nine showed losses of 5 percentage points or more compared with 2011’s rates.

Since 2010, six of the city schools have seen double-digit declines in graduation rates. Burgard Vocational High School showed the single most alarming drop – from half of its students graduating in 2010 to only a fourth – 24 percent – graduating in 2012. East, Bennett, Riverside and Lafayette high schools also showed a troubling pattern of two-year stagnation or decline, with less than a third of students graduating from those schools.

On the positive side, some schools both in and out of the city showed marked improvement. Buffalo’s Emerson School of Hospitality showed a 15 percent year-over-year gain in its graduation rates, from 66 percent in 2011 to 81 percent in 2012.

In surrounding districts, Depew, Lake Shore, North Collins and Frontier high schools made notable one- and two-year gains. Among the largest suburban school districts, the graduation rates were 92 percent in Williamsville, 81 percent in Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda and 85 percent in West Seneca.

The overall statewide graduation rate “remained stable at 74 percent despite increased rigor required for graduation phased in over the past four years,” according to Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch and State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr.

For more information on this story and other local education news, visit the School Zone blog at www.buffalonews.com. News Staff Reporters Gene Warner and Dale Anderson contributed to this story. email: stan@buffnews.com