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New York's Big Cities (Not Just the Big Apple) Lag Behind State Grad. Rate

On June 11 the New York State Department of Education released the four-year cohort graduation rate for students who were in the 9th grade beginning in 2007. The graduation rate for the 2007 cohort, based on the number of students who graduated in June 2011, was 74 percent. That's a very slight improvement on the 73.4 percent graduation rate, the smallest increase in the last five years. Five years ago, for the 2003 cohort, the graduation rate was 69.3 percent. Not surprisingly, the 2007 number looks somewhat better when you factor in diplomas earned by students in August 2011 after re-taking Regents exams: By August 2011, 76.8 percent of students in the 2007 cohort had graduated. (Students must pass a minimum number of Regents exams in order to receive a diploma.)

In commenting on the numbers the state education department highlighted the gains in both the June 2011 and August 2011, but stressed that the rates are "still too low for our students to be competitive."

"Too many of those students who do graduate aren't ready for college and careers," said Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, in the statement accompanying the numbers.

Both blacks and Hispanics trailed whites in graduation rate by about 27 percentage points, a fact the department also highlighted (85.1 percent of white students graduated in the 2007 cohort).

As Education Week's just-released Diplomas Count report shows, New York's 2007 cohort numbers are very similar to the nationwide graduation rate of 73.4 percent for the class of 2009, the latest year available for the Diplomas Count. Between 1999 and 2009, the report stated, New York showed the second-biggest graduation rate increase (19.9 percent) of the any state in the country.

The graduation rate in June 2011 in New York City schools actually declined by a tenth of a percentage point (down to 60.9 from 61 percent). But New York City officials like Mayor Michael Bloomberg are using a graduation rate of 65 percent for New York City schools, the graduation rate you get if you use the August 2011 number.

But the department also released a "large cities" graduation rate that includes Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers schools (but excludes Big Apple schools). As a proxy for disadvantaged students, even when the more-generous August 2011 number is used, it doesn't look particularly good: 56.3 percent of the 2007 cohort for "large cities" graduated in August 2011, compared with 76.8 percent for all state public school students. This number, lower than the New York City graduation rate, demonstrates that the state has much to worry about beyond the performance of students in New York City alone.

More broadly, the June graduation gap between "high-need" urban/suburban schools (64.5 percent) and their opposites, the "low-need" schools, is even bigger, standing at 29 percentage points. The graduation rate for low-need schools was 93.5 percent.

For the sake of brevity, let's also note that the state department is using a proxy for college- and career-readiness until the Common Core State Standards are fully implemented in 2014-15 (the state begins implementing them next year). This proxy is the state's own Aspirational Performance Measures. The APMs track the share of students who earned a diploma and who also achieved minimum scores on a math Regents exam and an English Regents exam. Among all students in the 2007 cohort, 34.7 percent of students met the APM standard, compared with 36.7 percent in 2006 (although the state says the results from those two cohort years aren't exactly comparable).

What about charters? The graduation rate for the 2007 cohort was 57.2 percent, although the state notes that, "These rates are based on small cohort status." (In the 2007 cohort, the number of students enrolled in charters was 1,115). In the 2003 cohort, the graduation rate was only 25.2 percent.

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