AUGUSTA — Maine ranked 17th in the nation in an analysis of 2008 graduation rates published today by Education Week.

Maine’s rate, as calculated by the magazine, was 76.5 percent, compared to a national average of 71.7 percent.

“It’s good news, but it also points out how far we have to go,” Stephen Bowen, Maine’s education commissioner, said today in a news release. “We’re still fifth among the six New England states, and our rate of increase, while good, is slower than the national average.”

Maine’s rate increased by 4.9 percentage points in 10 years; the national increase was 6.1 percentage points during that period.

Last year, Maine moved to a new common method for calculating the graduation rate that, as of this year, is shared by all 50 states. Comparisons among states will be even more accurate starting next year, according to David Connerty-Marin, spokesman for the state education department.

Also today, Bowen awarded the Maine State Diploma to six students who completed their educations after disruptions that made it impossible to receive a diploma from any high school they attended in the past.

“It’s an example of how we need to reach every child and find a path that works for him or her to complete their education,” Bowen said. “That means relevant learning, high expectations, and giving students more control over their educational path. When they are involved and have a stake in it, they are more likely to succeed.”

The national average of 71.7 percent is the highest graduation rate for U.S. public high schools since the 1980s, according to Education Week’s website. It also marks a significant turnaround following two consecutive years of declines and stagnation.

Education Week’s research center calculates graduation rates for the nation, states, and every public school district in the country using the Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI) method and data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core of Data.

New Jersey’s 86.9 percent graduation rate was the highest in 2008, according to Education Week, followed by Vermont (82.7), WIsconsin (81.3), North Dakota (80.2), Iowa (79.6), Connecticut (79.2), Illinois (78.8), South Dakota (78.7), New Hampshire (78.2), Minnesota (78), Pennsylvania (77.7), Massachusetts (77.5), Nebraska (77.3), Missouri and Tennessee (tied at 76.9) and Maryland (76.8).