There was a small increase in the four-year graduation rate for Anchorage School District's high school students, and superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop says it's because teachers are working to close the achievement gap.

The overall four-year graduation rate was 79.7 percent for the 2015-16 school year and 81.4 percent for 2016-17.

Dr. Bishop said teachers started working closely with certain student groups to improve learning.

"We worked in school teams," she said. "Really, this was the work of schools, principals and their staff-- and the school's teachers-- to look at individual students about why they weren't achieving in our system."

ASD has a diverse student population, Bishop said, with minority groups making up more than half the district. District officials want success for all students, she said.

Numbers Bishop presented to Anchorage Assembly members Friday highlighted several student groups where the district was able to narrow the achievement gap and increase graduation rates. She said each school has been addressing how to best help their students.

In 2015-16, the rate was 73.9 percent for African American students, which went up to nearly 80 percent for 2016-17. Alaska Native/American Indian students saw about an 8 percent increase. High school students who are economically disadvantaged had a four-year graduation rate of 70 percent in 2015-16, but that went up almost 5 percent for the following school year. There was a 6 percent increase in the four-year graduation rate for students with disabilities, according to the numbers Bishop presented.

The district's numbers show one in three secondary students received an F during the 2015-16 school year. Bishop said that indicated students weren't learning and teachers sought feedback to find ways to change that.

She said students learn differently and having teachers identify what certain groups need has helped shape support inside and outside of classrooms.

"Some of the kids shared that they needed more opportunities to learn," she said. "They needed to be taught in a separate way. They needed more time."

Bishop said some schools have implemented creative ways to increase student engagement.

"For instance, at Bartlett [High School], one-eighth of their entire school is involved in their sports football program," Bishop said. "So, they initiated, really, a study hall and a support system of teaching and co-teaching with the players, which enabled them. They used a group that the kids were already involved in to garner that support and work a little bit harder. They set the standards that we want rigor and we want our players to do well."

Bishop said when analyzing the numbers, they help tell a story about what students are really needing in their learning experiences and what works.

"Rather than just teach, teach, teach and move on, we took a step back and said, 'what's the learning going on?'" she said.

Bishop told Assembly members students also said what's helped them is when teachers make their content relevant to a student's life.

"We don't want kids to give up," Bishop said. "So, we want them to know that we're here. It isn't lowering the rigor. We know that we have standards to meet and we're just trying to rise and raise our kids to that level and when they don't understand, to seek support."