The good news is that graduation rates for Arlington and Fort Worth public schools are higher than some of the state's other major districts.The bad news is that the averages in Tarrant County's largest districts still notably trail the statewide mark.The big question, though, is what kind of report card that makes.Based on figures for the class of 2011, Fort Worth had an on-time graduation rate of 79.7 percent, slightly behind Arlington's 81.2 percent, Star-Telegram education writer Jessamy Brown reported. (bit.ly/UyXC3N)A report compiled by Fort Worth officials showed Austin had a rate of 80 percent, Dallas 77.3 percent, Houston 78.5 percent and San Antonio 75 percent.The state average was 85.9 percent, which ranked Texas third nationally (tied with Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Tennessee) in a November preliminary report from the U.S. Education Department. (1.usa.gov/UOCTEE)The rates are based on the number of ninth-graders who graduate when they would be expected to within four years, and the states now use a standard measurement. A comparison for the Class of 2011 is the most recent available.Fort Worth's graduation rate for Hispanic students was 80.2 percent and for African-Americans was 74.4 percent, Brown reported. The statewide figures for those groups were 81.8 percent and 80.9 percent, according to a Texas Education Agency report on school completion and dropout rates available at bit.ly/VKYjSW. The statewide rate for economically disadvantaged students was 83.7 percent.The national report shows that only two states had higher Hispanic graduation rates than Fort Worth: Maine (87 percent) and Indiana (81 percent). Six states did better than Fort Worth with African-American students, ranging from Indiana (75 percent) to Montana (81 percent).Those comparisons don't absolve local schools from continuing to improve.Graduation and dropout rates have become important components of schools' accountability ratings, along with test scores, attendance and whether students scored high enough on English and math exams to be designated "college ready."As the state transitions to new standardized tests, the accountability system also is being revised, and graduation and dropout rates are expected to remain key factors in determining whether schools are doing their job.But whether students finish on time is only one element of whether they've received the "general diffusion of knowledge" the Texas Constitution requires schools to provide.And whether schools will have the resources to provide the knowledge and preparation graduates need to take with them is likely to consume lawmakers, school officials and educators for most of the year.