Graduation rates for Black and Hispanic students increased by nearly 4 percentage points from 2011 to 2013, outpacing the growth for all students in the nation, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

What’s more, the gap between White students and Black and Hispanic students receiving high school diplomas narrowed over that time, the data revealed.

“The hard work of America’s educators, families, communities and students is paying off. This is a vital step toward readiness for success in college and careers for every student in this country,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “While these gains are promising, we know that we have a long way to go in improving educational opportunities for every student–no matter their zip code-for the sake of our young people and our nation’s economic strength.”

Data released earlier this year show that U.S. students are graduating from high school at a higher rate than ever before. The nation’s high school graduation rate hit 81 percent in 2012-13, the highest level in the nation’s history. Since 2010, states, districts and schools have been using a new, common metric—the adjusted cohort graduation rate—to promote greater accountability and develop strategies that will help reduce dropout rates and increase graduation rates in schools nationwide. The new data reflect that more accurate measure.

Today’s economy may call for critical skills that go beyond the basics. To ensure the economic strength of the country, students must graduate high school ready for college, careers and life. The Department of Education has invested more than $1 billion in early education; implemented strategies that improve achievement and close opportunity gaps, and has awarded billions of dollars through such grant programs as Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, and School Improvement Grants; and expanded college access and affordability for families.

To maintain and accelerate the progress students are making, the Obama Administration is calling for an overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—also known as No Child Left Behind—with a law that not only ensures students are prepared for college, careers and life, but also delivers on the promise of equity and real opportunity for every child.

Duncan has called on Congress to create a bipartisan law that supports state and local efforts to reduce unnecessary testing; gives teachers and principals the resources they need, while also supporting schools and districts in creating innovative new solutions to problems; makes real investments in high-poverty schools and districts and in expanding high-quality preschool, and addresses funding inequities for schools that serve high proportions of low-income students. The Department ensures high expectations for all students; and asks that where schools or groups of students are not making progress, steps will be taken to improve outcomes for those students, including more significant action in and resources for the lowest achieving 5 percent of schools.