The Berkeley County School District wants to raise its graduation rate to 80 percent by the 2015-16 school year, district Superintendent Rodney Thompson said Tuesday.

"Nationwide, graduation rates are a hot topic," he said during a presentation to the school board. "Of course, we want 100 percent of our students to graduate, and we have put in goals and strategies to continue improving our graduation rates every year."

From 2007 to 2010 that number has hovered around 67 to 68 percent. The rate for 2011 is not in.

"If you are going to improve graduation rates, it's not a high school, middle school or elementary school initiative," Thompson said. "It's a K-12 initiative."

Thompson hopes to increase the numbers gradually, setting a goal of 69.84 percent for the current year.

Last year, the district scored "average" on its state report card.

"We were just a few points from 'good,' " said district spokeswoman Kathie Sizemore. "And that was mostly because of our graduation rate. In looking at what we could do, we decided to focus on literacy on every level."

Thompson said about 83 percent of the district's third-graders read at or above level in third grade, according to PASS test results, but by eighth grade that number drops to 68 percent, which is the same as the graduation rate.

"We are sending 32 percent of our children to high school and setting them up for failure," he said. "We've got to teach our children to be good readers and think and solve problems. When a child can read, comprehend and express himself, he will do well on other things."

Brenda Rindge can be reached at 937-5713 or at www.facebook.com/b.rindge.