New York graduation rates on the rise

August 14, 2008 9:00:19 AM PDT
Keeping students for a fifth or sixth year in high school, along with substantially more summer school sessions and after school programs, is boosting New York graduation rates, according to state officials. State Education Department figures released Monday showed the statewide graduation rate was 68.6 percent after four years for the class that began ninth grade in 2003, up from 65.8 percent two classes before. In New York City, that class graduation rate was 52 percent after four years, up from 46.5 percent.

The report showed 25,000 students from the Class of 2007 dropped out statewide.

But graduation rates, while still low in some poorer schools, rose substantially after a fifth and sixth year. An evaluation of the class that began ninth grade in 2002 showed New York City's graduation rate rose to 59.5 percent by the end of the fifth year, up from 49.8 percent after four years. Meanwhile, the statewide graduation rates for Hispanic and black students each increased about 10 percentage points by the end of their fifth year, compared to the four-year graduation rate.

The graduation data is the most accurate to date. Students are now tracked by identification numbers starting in ninth grade, so the state no longer has to rely on school district estimates of their rates. In the past, some districts inflated graduation rates, a key measure of success or failure. The education department plans to audit these latest rates, too.

"After a decade of near-stagnation, New York City's graduation rate has climbed significantly since 2002," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "We clearly need to help larger numbers of students to graduate, but the progress we've made so far means that thousands more students are graduating today than would have six years ago."

State Education Commissioner Richard Mills said Monday that in New York City, other big city districts and in poorer districts, the additional year or two is already common. He said summer school enrollment has also increased in recent years and more schools offer tutoring and after school programs.

State schools Chancellor Robert Bennett said the Board of Regents is open to longer stays in the traditional four-year high school. For the class of 2006, a fifth year meant 13,000 more students graduated statewide. That improved the five-year graduation by 6 percentage points, to a rate of 73 percent statewide.

"I think a fifth year, if it works, is perfectly acceptable," said Bennett.

Mills, however, doesn't see high school extending to five years or more for most students. But it is among the more frequently used tools to improve performance of minority and poor students who haven't scored as well on standardized tests as white students and those in wealthier districts.

Mills said such unconventional measures, as well as greater use of summer school and longer school days, are improving student performance through more "time on task." School years beyond the usual 180-day schedule and longer school days have been used by some of the state's public charter schools for years, which charter advocates say has been a key to some gains in student performance compared to students in neighboring traditional public schools.

"I think 180 days is not adequate," Bennett said.

"We don't have a Regents action item on that yet," Mills said, adding, "The Regents will consider just about anything that works."

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