The rise in high school graduation rates is a good-news, bad-news story for New York. The good news, of course, is that more students are staying in school. The bad news is that graduation standards should be much higher. Even students passing with a Regents diploma - once a significant honor, but now watered down - often aren't ready for college. This has to change. The state's Board of Regents, which oversees public schools and universities, is on course to raise high school graduation standards. The effort mirrors a national revamping of school curricula by the Obama administration. A draft of new college- and career-readiness goals is due to be published by the U.S. Department of Education later this month. Participating states like New York have agreed to implement most of the new plan in three years. That's fast, but American educators have been worrying for decades about our declining school system, relative to the rest of the world. It's time for effective action. Higher standards may mean fewer students measuring up, which could lead to more kids dropping out. Technical and vocational programs should be made more relevant, so students who choose this path can stay in school and earn a diploma, while learning usable skills. New York must stop dumbing down requirements to achieve impressive statistics - it leads to dumbing down our kids as well. hN