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Archive for June, 2013

The Great Divide in High School College Readiness Rates

10 percent of the schools produce nearly half the college-ready graduates

Last week the city announced that 22.2% of students from the high school Class of 2012 met the state’s college-ready standard, up from 21.1% for the Class of 2011.  What the announcement didn’t say was that this already weak college-readiness rate was inflated by a small group of schools that contribute a disproportionate number of students to the city’s college-ready percentage.

The differences between schools were so great that the city’s overall college-readiness rate of 22.2% did not represent the reality for even most city schools.  In fact, only a quarter of the city’s high schools had a college-ready rate that was 22% or better.

Here’s one way to look at the numbers:

Out of 352 total schools for which data are available, the top 35 schools — 10% of the total – graduated nearly half of the city’s 16,600 total of college-ready students, boosting the city’s overall college-ready figure and obscuring the lower rates achieved by the overwhelming majority of remaining schools.  As the chart below shows, at these schools 73% of the graduating cohort is college-ready compared to only 16% for the bottom schools.  The 35 schools that skewed results include the likes of Stuyvesant, Bronx High School of Science, Brooklyn Tech and Townsend Harris as well as a few neighborhood schools like Francis Lewis High School and Midwood High School.

The distortion shows up most dramatically when you split the schools in half.  The top 50% of schools contributed almost all the students — 15,600 students — to the city’s college-ready total of 16,668.  The 170 schools in the bottom half of the rankings, though they have an estimated 22,500 students in their senior cohort, contributed a total of only 1,035 pupils to the total college-ready ranks. The average college-ready rate for this group was less than 5%.

A tale of two systems - distribution of college readiness

The huge differences in college readiness by school means that the standard mechanism for calculating the city’s rate doesn’t tell us much about the reality of New York City high schools.  Many of the top schools have a very stable college-ready rate and have been in the top 10% of schools for the past three years.

When the DOE reports on the city’s college-ready rate, it should take these things into consideration and report in the most transparent way.  For 2012, this could have been accomplished if the DOE had said the following:

  1. While the city’s overall college-ready rate is 22.2%, only 25% of the city’s high schools achieved this rate.
  2. The city’s college-ready rate of 22.2% drops to 16% if the top 10 percent of schools for college-ready students (approximately 35 schools) are excluded from the calculation.
  3. If you analyze the results by dividing the 352 schools in half by college-readiness rates, the difference becomes even more marked.  The overwhelming number of college-ready students come from the top 50% of schools in the college-readiness rankings.  The schools in the bottom half of the rankings manage to produce only about 1,000 college-ready students – less than 5% of the system’s college-ready total.


The college-readiness rate was created by the NYS Education Department to identify high school students who have graduated and who are academically ready for college-level math and English courses.  To be deemed college ready, a student must pass the NYS Math and English Regents with an 80 and 75 or better, respectively.  This benchmark was set based on the experience that the City University of New York (CUNY) had with students who attended NYC public high schools.  Students who fail to meet the standard are required to enroll in remedial math and English courses or pass special exams that allow them to test out of remedial courses

There were 406 high schools with students in the 2012 graduating class. Data for 54 of these schools, however, was not published.  The DOE withheld the information on these schools in order to comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Graduation Rate Dip — Was it Just Harder Tests?

When the mayor announced the Class of 2012 graduation rates on June 17, he blamed higher Regents requirements for a drop in the percentage of on-time graduates. But this is not the full explanation. There were several disturbing elements in the numbers that could signal a long-term flattening of graduation rates.

The drop in the city’s graduation rate was small — less than a percentage point — at 64.7 percent for the Class of 2012 versus 65.5 percent for the Class of 2011 (including August graduates). But it was unexpected. This is the first time since 2002 that grad rates have dropped.

It couldn’t be the Regents alone. The higher Regents requirements are not new. They have been phased in since 2005, when the entering high school class had to pass two of its five Regents with at least a 65, instead of 55. The following three cohorts each added another Regents at 65 — and graduation rates continued to climb.

The last test was not the hardest. There was no particular Regents test saved for the final phase-in year. Passing algebra, ELA, global history, US history and a science in any order was fine.

The decline was confined mostly to New York City. Using the state categories, high-need rural districts, large suburban districts, “average need” and “low need” districts all had increasing graduation rates for 2012. Though rates in the “Big Four” urban districts of Syracuse, Yonkers, Rochester and Buffalo dropped (only two of them as much as New York City). still, the overall June graduation average for all districts outside of New York City rose to 81.6 percent, up from 81.2 percent the previous year.

The students who are traditionally the hardest to graduate fell further behind. The standout was English language learners. Just 40.5 percent of city ELLs in the Class of 2012 graduated by August, a drop of almost five percentage points from 45.1 percent for 2011 and 46.1 percent for 2010. This cannot be only about the Regents ELA. That test is often students’ first or second Regents, and of course can be taken multiple times. In addition, former ELLs — those who began high school as ELLs but tested out of the classification — have also seen declining graduation rates for each of the last three years.

Black and Hispanic students made no progress. The on-time graduation gap between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian counterparts was unchanged again: 20 points between blacks and whites and 22 points between Hispanics and whites. They have been stuck at these levels for the last five years. Students with disabilities had a graduation rate of 27.6, virtually unchanged for the last two years and far below the 45 percent statewide average. If black and Hispanic students, who make up more than 70 percent of the city’s students, cannot narrow the gaps between their rates of graduation and those of whites and Asians, then the overall grad rate is unlikely to improve.

Finally, there is the college-ready graduation rate. Just over one-fifth (21.9 percent) of the entering class in 2008 was prepared to succeed (minimally) in college or career by June 2012, judged by Regents scores. That’s a point higher than last year, but it’s a sign of profoundly mediocre education, with all this mayor’s reforms. The black college-ready rate was 11.1 percent; for Hispanics it was 12.2 percent.

Our graduates are regularly stuck in remedial courses when they go to college — in fact the number has been increasing. As Yoav Gonen in the NY Post reported, since 2009, the remediation rate for city public-school graduates who enroll at CUNY 2-year colleges has increased by about 6 percentage points — from just under 74 percent to fully 80 percent last year.

The numbers suggest the city is hitting a wall. Graduation rates did climb encouragingly for several years, as  teachers worked extraordinarily hard to meet draconian test-based accountability measures. But that takes the system only so far. College readiness involves abilities that a compliance and test-driven education cannot provide.

More of the same won’t do it.  Next year high school graduates must pass a Common Core-aligned Algebra Regents, and further Common Core tests will be introduced from there. Those tests are harder. There were already whispers about  heavy use of credit recovery and dumbed-down Regents tests in getting the graduation rate this high. Now it’s hard to see where the push for better rates will come from.

A high school diploma is a valuable piece of paper. It may not be sufficient, but it is absolutely necessary. Reaching an acceptable four-year graduation rate, say, matching the “average need” districts’ 85 percent, requires a sea change. It starts with an education mayor, but a real one this time.

Why They’ll Be at the June 12 Rally

City employees including sanitation workers, college professors and teachers say how they contribute to the city and why they will be at the Fair Contracts for All Rally at City Hall Park at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, June 12. “New Yorkers all over need to hear that our unions are united and are fighting together for fair contracts,” says teacher Subrina Cek.