MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin has the widest high school graduation rate gap between white and black students in the nation.

New federal data show that almost 93 percent of white students in Wisconsin earn diplomas within four years, compared to just 64 percent of black students.

State Department of Public Instruction spokesman Tom McCarthy told Wisconsin Public Radio that closing the gap will take community efforts.

“Not every gap is identical,” McCarthy said. “Almost all of them are unique to the situations that exist in the area of the state where those kids live. So it’s getting the people bought into making a change and acknowledging that it exists.”

McCarthy also said, race needs to be addressed and cannot be ignored by the public and lawmakers moving forward.

Patricia Hoben runs three charter schools in Milwaukee. She told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that on-time graduation rates might not be the fairest measure of high schools that serve poor students.

“The gap data is real and horrendous, but the concern I have when you focus on that is there are all sorts of ways to kick kids along,” Hoben said. “We know kids are graduating with a 3.0 GPA and a 14 on their ACT exam. If you wait to graduate kids until they can get an 18 or 20 on the ACT, they’re more likely to go to college and into the workplace.”

State Superintendent Tony Ever said, he will be asking the Legislature to change state law to allow Milwaukee Public Schools to begin the academic term before Labor Day. With an earlier start date he said Superintendent Darienne Driver can push an aggressive plan for credit-recovery programs for high school students.

“It’s time to look at doing some things differently for Milwaukee Public Schools,” Evers said. “If they can do credit recovery in a robust way, that could raise the graduation rate.”