The graduation rate for Minnesota students is the highest it's been in a decade, according to new data released Wednesday by the Minnesota Department of Education

About 79 percent of Minnesota students graduated in 2013, up from 75 percent in 2010. Last year, black and Hispanic students had the biggest year-to-year increase, though they still lag behind white students.

Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said that while there is clearly more work that needs to be done, the new graduation rates suggest the state will be able to meet its goal of cutting the achievement gap in half by 2017.

"We are not only seeing a higher graduation rate for all students, but increases in the number of students graduating in every single group," Cassellius said. "These increases are the result of targeted investments by Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature, as well as greater accountability for schools through our waiver, and the incredible work being done each and every day by Minnesota's educators."

Cassellius chalked up the statewide improvement to a couple of factors. Among them is the state's waiver from No Child Left Behind which was granted in early 2012. Under the waiver, the state instituted a new accountability system that is less punitive than the old one.

Some Republican leaders questioned whether the increase in graduation rates were a product of the GRAD test, the exam seniors were required to pass in order to graduate. Legislators voted last year to repeal that requirement and institute a test that assessed whether a student was ready for college. That new exam will be in place for the 2015-2016 school year.

"I think this is an indication that it (the GRAD test) was working," said Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton.