New York State Yet to See Payoff from More Rigorous Standards

Scott Waldman of Albany's reports that one year of more rigorous academic standards has yet to produce marked improvements in academic outcomes for New York State's students. According to new data, the high school graduation rates in the state remained steady at 74%, and there were persistent disparities in achievement between students of different income levels and racial groups.

In a statement to coincide with the annual release of academic statistics, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch bemoaned the fact that there remain a high number of low-income, minority students in the state who leave high school without graduating, reducing their future economic options substantially. This is reflected by the wide disparity in graduation rates between school districts with a high proportion of "in need" students where 65% of high schoolers earn a diploma compared to districts with wealthier student population in which nearly 95% of high school students graduate.

The Albany school district's graduation rate of 49.2 percent was among the worst in the Capital Region.

Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, who started her job last fall after these results were compiled, said the rates don't reflect the expectations of the community or the district. She said she was hired to change the graduation rate and is working to do that beginning in the elementary grades.

"If I fully prepare them for the next grade level, I expect graduation rates to improve," she said.

The data included students who enrolled in high school four years ago and graduated this spring, excluding those who might have taken longer to earn a diploma or left school and subsequently earned a GED. When longer completion times were taken into account, the graduation rate showed a small increase in some districts.

In prior years districts could grant a diploma to students who failed to pass the required Regents exams. The "local diploma" was phased out this year and now students are required to pass five exams with at least 65% to graduate.

In her prepared remarks, Tisch took a swipe at the teachers union and others who have criticized the state's increasing reliance on standardized exams and other methods it believes will measure student learning.

"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."

Some of the worst completion rates were in large urban districts like New York City, Syracuse and Buffalo. According to Education Commissioner John King, in some cities fewer than 10% of students felt they were college-ready upon leaving high school.

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