Log in  |  Search

Graduation Rates Are Up, But That Could Change

On Monday the city learned that its on-time graduation rate rose to 66 percent, its highest level in at least 20 years. By the more stringent state counting method. the city graduated 56.4 percent of its Class of 2008 on time, a 10-year high at least. Either way, it’s pretty significant.

By now, the good news bandwagon has actually gotten a little repetitive.  (And the Mayor’s use of test score and graduation rate gains to flay opponents of mayoral control has gotten a little much.)  But the graduation rates are based on four years of coursework as well as five exit exams, so those gains should truly be celebrated.

Without trying to rain on the parades, though, future graduation rates are likely to go down. Over the next three years, the state will phase out “local” diplomas, awarded to students who pass Regents exams with a 55-64, instead of a 65 or better. More than a quarter (28 percent) of the Class of 2008 graduates received local diplomas, and this was not much changed from the year before. So absent some amendment to the policy, we could see state-calculated graduation rates closer to 40 percent in three years, when the local diploma option is up. The 15 or 16 percent of each class (graduates and non-graduates) with local diplomas, who have boosted the city’s graduation rate comfortably past the 50 percent mark for the last two years, are going to disappear.

The Center for New York City Affairs recently highlighted this coming trainwreck in its report, “The New Marketplace.” Using 2007 data, authors Kim Nauer and Clara Hemphill showed that “(I)f students had been required to obtain a Regents diploma in 2007, only 34 schools [out of 269] would have had a graduation rate of 75 percent or higher.” The situation was especially dire in small high schools, they said, where 26 percent of the class (graduates and non-graduates) got local diplomas, compared with 17 percent in the large high schools.

Some groups will be hit harder than others. The new data, for the Class of 2008, show that more than a third (35 percent each) of black and Hispanic graduates got local diplomas. Of the 22.5 percent of students with disabilities who graduated on time, two-thirds got local diplomas. And of the 35.8 percent of English Language Learners who graduated with their class in 2008, more than half did it with local diplomas.

Meanwhile, the Board of Regents, under its tough new Chancellor Merryl Tisch, is not likely to “dumb down” state tests. She recently complained the Grade 3-8 math test was “too easy.” But the Regents are considering whether to extend the phase-out of local diplomas. They are also thinking about using a five-year graduation rate for NCLB accountability purposes. That could give a substantial boost to the most challenged students, and the U.S. Department of Education has suggested that such a change might be approved.

Meanwhile, be prepared for footnotes and asterisks galore if the local diplomas no longer count. The DOE will fall all over itself to clarify any charts or graphs that show an education indicator going downhill. It’s just not in their playbook.



  • 1 shouldhavegonetomedschool
    · Jun 25, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Of course, anyone truly familiar with New York State culture and Regents realizes that a Regents diploma was never meant for everyone. It was the icing on the cake as it were not the cake. There were no draconian repercussions for a decent student who didn’t pass any particular or even any Regents. Life continued. High school could be completed in four years. Many colleges would consider such a student.

    Now in an escapade which is beginning to sound increasingly like “The Three Stooges” some beaucratic jackass came up with the concpet that every student, even special education students must pass five increasingly difficult Regents. Not too long back that would have been viewed as simply psychotic. The reality is it still is.

  • 2 Gotham Gazette - The Wonkster » Blog Archive » Weekly Web Wrap
    · Jun 26, 2009 at 11:21 am

    […] State Change to Graduation Stats Could Implode Gains (Edwize) […]

  • 3 kristine.nyctf16.lehman
    · Jun 26, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    Yesterday the school I work at graduated its first class of seniors; we had an amazing 87% graduation rate. Of those students who commenced, seven received advanced Regents diplomas, six received local diplomas, and eighty-five received Regents diplomas. Our low percentage of advanced Regents diplomas aside, our graduation rate and percentages of local and Regents diplomas do not compare to those citywide and statewide. These statistics may seem to reflect a school found in suburban or wealthy neighborhoods in New York, but our school is located in the heart of the South Bronx. Our small school’s success can be credited to the dedicated staff, hard working students, and supportive administration. I expect that next year we will be celebrating similar (if not improved) student graduation rates.
    Your argument for a decline in the city’s graduation rate once local diplomas are invalidated is of great concern. However, it does not take into account other factors that affect graduation rates. I do not completely agree that graduation rates will drop twenty-six percent in three years. How the extinction of local diplomas will affect students before their senior year remains to be seen. In order to graduate students must accumulate credits in their core classes as well as “pass” a minimum of five Regents exams. Once graduation requirements become stricter, there is a chance that less students will remain in school long enough to be considered a candidate for graduation. This year at our school the freshmen and junior classes were registered to take the most Regents exams; both classes sat for four exams. The results of these tests greatly affect whether or not a student is “on track” to graduate. If the freshmen or juniors do not pass their exams, they must first go to summer school and try again in August. Freshmen who do not pass everything will greatly affect the rest of their four-year course sequence. If the juniors do not pass their exams, they endanger their graduation. As the rules stand it is tough enough to retain students for four years. When the bar is raised so that students must score at least a sixty-five there will be even less students who finish their years on track. Without the option of a local diploma it is very likely that students who fail their Regents consistently will not make it to senior year. Consequently the students most likely to graduate will remain in school and the graduation rate may not decline as drastically as predicted. If the state phases out local diplomas to students without individualized education plans its greatest affect may be to scare students away from their senior year.
    The loss of the local diploma option may also push parents, teachers, and administration to test students without IEPs for special education. I am uncertain if there is a deadline for students to receive services, but if a senior whose Regents scores range from a fifty-five to a sixty-four suddenly sets up an IEP he or she could graduate on time. Failing Regents scores looks poorly upon everyone in a school. If a student has difficulty earning high enough Regents scores it may be easier to rule the student incapable of passing due to learning disabilities. It may be that the percentage of special education students in New York state sees an incline before New York’s graduation rate declines.

  • 4 Erin
    · Jun 26, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    When standardized tests are used to make a major decision in a student’s education they are known as high stakes tests. Most common, these tests pertain to credit accumulation or graduation. The intention behind high stakes testing is that if the results of the test are tied to large consequences, then the learning process will be taken more seriously by students and educators. Standardized testing is very positive in the respect that it attempts to hold both teachers and students accountable for student learning. In addition, high stakes tests are meant to provide educators with data to measure the effectiveness of their teaching practices and curriculum. Test scores can provide useful feedback to teachers and help them revise their instruction and affirm what they have done well throughout the year. Unfortunately, since its introduction high stakes testing has become a controversial topic because these tests have not lived up to their intended purpose.

    In theory, high stakes testing seems like a good idea because it holds both teachers and students accountable to a set standard regarding what is accomplished during the school year, in practice students are being trained so narrowly to merely pass a test, that they may have a difficult time with general problem solving and critical thinking skills. Arguably, getting students to pass high stakes tests becomes the largest priority of a school, and this becomes the lens through which teachers plan curriculum. As an educator I can attest to this. My desire would be to teach chemistry through real world investigations, such as a study of nuclear energy, drug addition, or which brand of antacid treats heartburn the best. What I have found is that the state mandated curriculum covers such a large volume of content, that rather than carrying out in depth investigations that teach mastery, my students are tested on adequacy of understanding. A major concern is that high stakes tests can end up becoming a substitute for an authentic, research driven curriculum rather than a measure of the curriculum’s effectiveness. Therefore, high stakes tests have the potential to stifle creativity and instead place the focus on rote instruction in schools. In addition, one research study found that the implementation of high stakes tests actually lowered graduation rates across the country. With the reputation of the school riding on these tests, the authors of the study linked these lower rates not only to frustrated students giving up, but to administrators pressuring failing students to drop out. High stakes testing creates a climate of fear in schools among students, teachers and administrators, a feeling that does not foster commitment to deep understanding.

    All in all, using high stakes tests to measure achievement and promote accountability is positive; however these tests need to be revised so that they focus on problem solving skills and critical thinking. We want our students to be successful in the real world, and so standardized tests should be modeled after it. Changes in these tests must be made so that teachers no longer feel compelled to teach a narrow curriculum based on test taking skills. Instead, these tests should hold teachers accountable to engaging students in learning and teaching students the process skills they will need in their careers.

  • 5 Richard Skibins
    · Jun 28, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    The latest buzzword shoved down our throats has been “differentiation.” How can there be differentiation if everyone must pass the same exam?

  • 6 Peter
    · Jun 29, 2009 at 9:16 pm


    Graduation rates are based on cohorts … aka the entering class … students entering in the 9th grade, whether they graduate, come back for a fifth year, or dropout are included in the cohort-based graduation rate. Only students who transfer to another accredited program are not counted … BYW, college readiness is the advanced diploma …

  • 7 maisie
    · Jun 30, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    Peter is right, Kristine. Students who do not make it to junior or senior year are still counted as part of the class, and so they would be counted as dropouts, unless, as Peter says, they legitimately transfered to another accredited program. By the way, congratulations on your great graduation rate. You and your colleagues must be doing good work. I would be curious to hear your opinion of the Regents exams, or at least of any you have seen. Do you see them as hard or easy for your students? What Erin is saying, and she is not the only one, is the tests have forced a narrower, sort of mile-wide-inch-deep curriculum by incorporating a lot of subject matter, too much to permit in-depth study and student mastery. Are the Regents like that in your opinions? I’d welcome your thoughts.

  • 8 Becks
    · Jul 26, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    High School graduation rates for New York City are calculated two different ways under two different sets of criteria, one set was established by the New York City Department of Education and the second set was established by the New York State Education Department. For the most part these two sets of criteria are the same with a few exceptions that sometimes allow for one high school to have two different denominators or “cohorts.” The criteria that have been established by both departments hold schools accountable for the lives of young people, unfortunately not enough is done to ensure that graduation rates are accurately calculated and tracked, as a result schools are often misrepresented.
    One example of how the current formula for calculating graduation rates misrepresents schools is as follows: Student x attends school A for ninth grade in 2004 and fails everything. In 2005 student x transfers to school B and thanks, in large part, to the dedicated staff at school B passes everything with high enough grades to make it to the top of her class, as a result she graduates with honors 4 years later in 2009. This is a huge success for the student; unfortunately it is not as much of a success for school B. While student x will positively effect the 5 year graduation rate of school B, she will also negatively effect the 4 year graduation rate of school B and consequently have no effect on either graduation rate for school A. This provides schools with a huge disincentive to take failing transfer students, while simultaneously misrepresenting schools that do.
    In response to Kristine’s post I would like to partially agree with Peter’s post, in that a school’s cohort is based on the grade nine entry date of its students, however transferring to another “accredited” program might not be the best description of how a student is removed from a school’s accountability cohort. In order for a student to be removed from an accountability cohort he or she must do one of the following: transfer to another diploma granting institution (Public, Private and parochial high schools meet this standard, GED programs do not), transfer to a school outside of New York City with proper documentation, be placed in a Juvenile Justice or similar (non DOE) institution, enroll in an early college admission program prior to graduating from high school, or to put it straightforwardly he or she must die (Graduation Cohort Memo NYCDOE).
    I understand the importance of establishing such strict criteria for calculating graduation rates; however these standards leave far too much room for error. Anyone who has ever worked for a New York City public high school can attest to the difficulty school administrators face when trying to track down students that move out of state. This makes obtaining documentation quite the chore, and when they eventually do obtain documentation they have often missed the reporting deadline. Schools are also faced with the data inaccuracies that come from the data systems used by both DOE and SED. DOE uses a DOS based system known as ATS, this system allegedly exports data into NYSTART a web based system utilized by SED. Somehow these two systems are, more often than not, less than mirror images. This is because ATS is constantly being changed and NYSTART does not always reflect the changes being made by schools.
    Another important topic addressed by this blog is SED’s plan to phase-out the Local Diploma. I would like to start out by saying this plan is already underway considering that the 2008 graduating class was allowed to pass up to five exams with a 55 or higher, while the class of 2009 can only pass three exams with a 55 or higher and are required to get a 65 or higher on the two remaining required exams. This phase-out will continue by decreasing the number of exams students can pass with a 55 or higher each year until the number is zero for the class of 2012. This phase-out will undoubtedly have an adverse effect on the city’s graduation rate in its entirety. As discussed in the study conducted by Kim Nauer and Clara Hemphill, this adverse effect will be more noticeable in some subgroups, however I am pleased to know that this adverse effect will not extend to students with disabilities as the current phase-out plan is meant for general education students only (www.nysed.gov).
    It is important to implement high standards in the calculation of graduation rates in order to ensure that NYC high schools are held accountable for the education of all students. The standards established by both the New York City Department of Education and the New York State Education Department make it extraordinarily difficult for students to fall through the cracks without their respective schools being held accountable. To the opposite extreme, these same standards often serve to misrepresent the schools for which they are used to calculate graduation rates. If all of the standards implemented to govern the success of schools were met with as much support as they are scrutiny, perhaps the graduation rates of high schools would be more accurately calculated and, as a result, increase. Lastly I would just like to sat that while I too commend the efforts of the school where Kristine works, I wonder if 87% is a rate based on the criteria the city and state use, or if it is more a participatory rate with a denominator made up only of students “who make it to their senior year.”