Newark’s on-time graduation rate hit 81% in 2020 – the highest in decades, district officials said.

The milestone came after the state relaxed closure rules in response to the pandemic, which helped increase the Newark rate by 5 percentage points year over year, according to the district’s preliminary figures.

“This is the first time in the last 20 years that we have seen this graduation rate, albeit tentatively,” Superintendent Roger León said during the school council meeting on Thursday, adding that the state has yet to review the graduation rate.

The superintendent announced the preliminary completion rate to employees this month. Newark Public Schools

New Jersey students must earn a minimum number of credits and pass standardized tests in math and English to graduate. However, the state waived the assessment requirement in April after the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of state tests.

The rule change also saved students who had failed the tests from completing an appeal process. This likely benefited many students in Newark, where more than 20% of students in the 2019 class used the appeal process to meet the requirements for the English exam and more than 30% used it for math.

“Zero students were denied graduation because they did not meet the requirements for the final exam,” León said Thursday.

In 2019, approximately 76% of Newark seniors graduated in four years, which is considered on time. The nationwide rate was 90.6%.

León initially announced that the preliminary completion rate for 2020 had risen to 81.2% at a meeting of all employees earlier this month. On Thursday, he said the final quota “might actually be higher” as additional students from the 2020 class qualify for a diploma.

“This is a monumental achievement for this district,” said board member A’Dorian Murray-Thomas. “It’s a reflection of the brilliance that’s already here.”