New York State education officials released Monday the latest high school graduation rates for the group of students who entered high school in 2008. Overall, the rates remained stable at 74 percent which officials applauded given that this was the first group of students for whom a local diploma was not available, except for students with special needs.
For New York City, the state's largest school district, the overall graduation rate dipped slightly to 60.4 percent from 60.9 percent last year. This includes students graduating in June with a Local, Regents or Advanced Regents diploma after four years. For those graduating in August, 2012, the numbers are slightly better but still lower than the previous year, 64.7 percent graduating compared to 65.5 percent.
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott welcomed the news, noting that the higher standards were a challenge for the city's students and teachers.
"We continue to raise the bar and our students continue to rise to the challenge," Walcott said. This is the first year of the Bloomberg administration the high school graduation rates have dropped. Last year they saw a modest uptick.
For charter schools statewide, the 2012 graduation rates rose to 64.7 percent from 57.2 percent in 2011.
“We’re just finishing the first full year of implementation of the Regents’ reforms,” said New York State Education Commissioner John King in a statement accompanying the data's release. “The graduation rates, the achievement gaps, and the painfully low rate of college and career readiness statewide are just more evidence of the need to act decisively to fully implement those reforms."
The percentage of students deemed ready for college and careers is just half of the overall graduation rate, about 35 percent statewide; among black and Hispanic students the percentages were far lower (12.5 percent and 15.7 percent, respectively). In New York City, only 21.9 percent of all students were college and career ready, an increase of 1.2 percentage points since last year. The graduation rate among the English Language Learners dropped five percentage points to 35.4 percent, which the city attributed to the tougher standards.
The state defines college and career readiness by looking at how many students earn at least 75 percent on their English Regents and 80 percent on their math Regents.
The achievement gap persisted for this group of high school graduates. Statewide, 57.8 percent of Hispanic students and 58.1% of black students graduated in four years compared to 85.7 percent of white students.
The gap was particularly wide among those earning an Advanced Regents diploma. Statewide, 42 percent of white students earned Advanced Regents diplomas as compared to 12 percent of Hispanics and nine percent of black students. Students need to pass eight Regents exams to gain the Advanced Regents diploma compared to five for the regular Regents diploma.
Graduation rates in high-needs school districts in both urban and suburban areas are dramatically lower than those in low-needs districts, as defined by state officials: 65.1 percent of students in high-needs districts graduated in June compared to 93.9 percent of those in low-needs districts.
"This is an on-going tragedy," said Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch in a statement. "Tens of thousands of students are still leaving high school with no diploma and fewer options for the future. And sadly, most of those students who do graduate aren’t ready for college or jobs that provide family-sustaining wages."
She said the Board of Regents’ reforms underway were essential to making progress.
“Despite all the naysayers, raising standards was the right thing to do,” Tisch said. “Our teachers and students rose to the challenge. Now it’s time to rise to the next challenge. The rates may be stable even with the increased rigor, but stable doesn’t equal success."
She said the Common Core learning standards, implemented in kindergarten through 8th grade in 2012-13, will be phased in for high school in the 2013-14 school year, when the Algebra Regents will be aligned with the Common Core. This means the ninth graders who enter high school in September will be the first cohort required to receive Common Core instruction throughout high school and the first required to take Regents exams aligned to the Common Core.