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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, June 16, 2011

Across New York, data shows
More students graduate, but half may not be ready for college

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — In its drive to make students better prepared for college and careers, the State Education Department on Tuesday released figures on high-school graduation rates based on the 2006 cohort — those students who entered ninth grade in 2006 and would have graduated in four years by August 2010.

While graduation rates are steadily increasing, the department at the same time released data it said indicated that half or fewer of those students may be prepared to succeed in college. The data also highlighted racial and gender gaps.

The week before, the graduation rate for Guilderland — 92 percent — was part of the annual presentation of the school report card. Guilderland High School has made notable improvement in its overall graduation rate, increasing it from 90 to 92 percent, said Michael Piscitelli, the administrator for math, science, and technology. About 60 percent of Guilderland graduates go to four-year colleges and about 30 percent to two-year colleges. (See related story.)

Statewide, 73.4 percent of the students who entered high school in 2006 graduated within four years. In the Capital Region, city schools fared the worst, with Albany at 47 percent and Schenectady at 57 percent. Suburban schools did best, with Voorheesville the leader at 97 percent. Rural Berne-Knox-Westerlo had 86 percent of the cohort graduate.

While the graduation rate is steadily climbing for New York State — it was 72 percent for the 2005 cohort and 66 percent for the 2001 cohort — the Board of Regents, which governs education in New York, has determined that many of the graduates are ill prepared for college.

The Regents said earlier that, in 2007, forty-four percent of first-time students at two-year colleges and 13 percent at four-year colleges took remedial course work.

Last summer, the Regents analyzed how student performance on the state’s elementary-school tests in math and English related to first-year performance in college. Consequently, the cut-off scores were changed for students required to get extra help.

The Regents are currently considering changing graduation requirements, perhaps raising the passing scores on the English and math Regents exams. In the meantime, the state has established “aspirational performance measures” that are meant to inform schools and parents about students’ readiness for college.

So this Tuesday, along with the graduation rates, the State Education Department released “aspirational measurements of achievements” for school districts across New York based on two things:

— The percent of students in the cohort who earned a Regents diploma with Advanced Designation; and

— The percent of students who graduated with a score of 75 or greater on their English Regents exam and 80 or better on their math Regents exam.

Statewide, 30.9 percent of the 2006 cohort graduated with an Advanced Designation diploma and 36.7 percent passed the English and math exams with the higher scores, indicating those students would be ready for college.

So, while 73.4 percent graduated, half or fewer would, by Board of Regents standards, be deemed ready for college.

At Guilderland, 60 percent of the 2006 cohort graduated with an Advanced Designation diploma. At Voorheesville, 64 percent did, and at BKW 36 percent did. Again, the city districts had the fewest Advanced Designation graduates; Albany High was at 15 percent.

The suburban schools fared best, too, when it came to students scoring 75 or higher on the English Regents and at 80 or better on the math — 68 percent for Guilderland and 66 percent for Voorheesville. BKW had 33 percent and Albany High had 16 percent.

Closing gaps

In presenting the data, the Regents chancellor Merryl H. Tisch, stressed the need to close “a stubbornly persistent racial achievement gap.”

On passing the Regents with the higher cut-off scores, the data on Guilderland shows 78 percent of Asian students met the mark, compared to 70 percent of white students, 56 percent of Hispanic students, and 18 percent of black students. (The tabulations for BKW and Voorheesville show all the students as white.)

Yesterday, Demian Singleton, the assistant superintendent for instruction at Guilderland, said those figures concern him. Although he hadn’t yet had a chance to review the data in detail, he said, “There’s a broader challenge behind this — encouraging all students to pursue rigorous studies.”

He also said, “There’s more than one variable at work here. I suspect socio-economic status has a lot to do with it.”

Some of the students who aren’t reaching the higher mark, he said, “may not come from the most involved homes…may not have the encouragement.” He said the school has to “reach out” to those students.

The data is also broken down by gender and shows females doing better than males. At Guilderland, for example, 72 percent of females met the mark compared to 64 percent of males. At BKW, 35 percent of females reached the higher scores while 30 percent of males did. At Voorheesville, the gap was widest — 77 percent of females met the mark compared to 56 percent of males.

Singleton said that females performing better in school is a nationwide trend. “Some approaches in schools can be more beneficial for girls,” he said, giving an example of literacy. Boys can frequently relate better to non-fiction, he said, which is now being stressed on the secondary level with the Common Core Standards. Through a process initiated by the National Governors Association, more than half the states, including New York, have agreed to the Common Core Standards.

The data on students with disabilities for Guilderland shows that 10 percent met the mark, earning the higher Regents scores, compared to 76 percent of the general education students.

Students from poor homes also fared worse for the most part. Data for Guilderland shows that 38 percent of economically disadvantaged students met the mark compared with 69 percent of those not from poor homes. At BKW, 8 percent of the 24 students considered economically disadvantaged met the mark compared to 41 percent of the other students. At Voorheesville, the six economically disadvantaged students had a slightly higher percentage — 67 percent — than the 86 other students at 66 percent. Samples from those schools may be too small to be statistically significant.

(The Enterprise explored these trends in depth two years ago; to read the story, go online to www.AltamontEnterprise.com and look under Guilderland archives for Sept. 25, 2008.)

Singleton concluded on closing the gaps, “The challenge we have as a school district is to consider all the variables and to reach out to the students who need it.”

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