More students are graduating across New York State, but the overall graduation rate is rising slowly over time. The data just released Tuesday morning by the state Education Department also finds there's still an achievement gap between white students and students of color.
In Syracuse, 45.9 percent of students graduated, which is up from 45.2 percent the previous year. Among the other Big 5 city school districts, all saw improvements except for Buffalo which saw a nearly 6 percent drop in its graduation rates.
Syracuse Superintendent Dan Lowengard says he's happy to see graduation rates slightly increase, but he says the district still has a lot of work to do. He says he'd like to see graduation rates in the city match those in the suburban districts.
Lowengard says he thinks programs like Say Yes to Education are helping graduation rates, but even more needs to be done.
"I think we're tougher on ourselves than anybody," says Lowengard. "We really are. We're never pleased until we get to that 80-90 percent, but it is validation that what we're doing is working, and it's beginning to make a difference."
Lowengard says the district also focuses on bringing students back to school after they have dropped out. He says the district will work with students by offering social workers or online courses to help them get back on track.
Locally, suburban schools in Onondaga County are exceeding the statewide average. Skaneateles is one of the county leaders with a 94 percent graduation rate. North Syracuse has an 83 percent graduation rate and Oswego has a rate of 73 percent.
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"New York has some of the highest performing schools and districts in the country, but today's data makes clear that we have tremendous work to do to reduce the drop-out rate, close a stubbornly persistent racial achievement gap and ensure that more of our graduates are prepared for college and the workforce," said Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. "This data underscores the urgency of our efforts to continue to raise standards, improve assessments, and support the highest quality teaching in all of our classrooms."
The 2010 graduation rates just released track the performance of students who entered 9th grade in 2006 and are part of school report cards. Statewide, 73.4 percent of students graduated in 4 years. The previous year, that number was at 71.8 percent. Four years before that, it was 65.8 percent. So clearly, there's progress being made. But there's still work left to be done.
"While the state's overall graduation rate continues to slowly improve, too many of our students are graduating with only a local diploma," said Education Commissioner David Steiner. "To help ensure that more students graduate high school prepared for the rigors of work and higher education, the Department will work closely with schools and districts to implement the Regents reform agenda - an agenda with the straightforward goal of closing the gap and lifting the level of achievement for all students."
The report finds the overall graduation rate for black students rose from the previous year from 55.7 percent to 57.7 percent. The rate for Hispanic students also rose from 54.8 percent last year to 57.3 percent this year. There is still a large gap in graduation rates between white students and black and Hispanic students, but school officials say that gap is narrowing.
The Board of Regents is already looking at how to make improvements to better prepare students for college and careers. They're even considering changes to New York's graduation requirements. Options include raising the required passing scores on the English and math Regents exams and/or requiring students to pass a second Regents exam in math, allowing greater flexibility in meeting graduation requirements and allowing alternative and supplemental credentials.
"Every aspect of the Regents reform agenda is aimed at ensuring that more New York State students graduate college and career ready," said John King, Senior Deputy Commissioner. "We have adopted more rigorous Common Core standards and are aligning our assessments with those standards; we're going to create data systems that provide parents and educators with information that's more useful and more transparent; we're going to ensure that classroom teachers and school leaders are better trained, thoughtfully evaluated, and better supported; and we're going to help our lowest performing schools turn their performance around or replace them with innovative educational options. We are confident that these reforms will advance both equity and excellence."
The state Education Department has also released details on students graduating with a Regents diploma with Advanced Designation. In Syracuse, 7.5 percent of the student body achieved this designation. They include students who earned 22 units of course credit, passed 7 to 9 Regents exams with a score of 65 or higher and took advanced course sequences in Career and Technical Education, the arts, or a language other than English.
Another 9.3 percent of Syracuse students graduated with a local, Regents or Regents with Advanced Designation diploma, earned a score of 75 or greater on their English Regents exam and 80 or better on their math Regents exam.
In this category, there is a large gap between white students and students of color with 43.3 percent of white students graduated with a Regents diploma with Advanced Designation compared to 9.5 percent of black students and 11.7 percent of Hispanic students.
You can view the graduation rates on the state Education Department website.