Slight rise seen in grad rates in Buffalo schools

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — New York’s high school graduation rate rose slightly to 74.9 percent in 2013, but big differences persisted in the numbers for white and minority students and relatively few graduates earned advanced diplomas considered a measure of college readiness, according to data released by the state Monday.

Education Commissioner John King Jr. said the numbers “reinforce the urgency” of implementing the more rigorous Common Core Learning Standards that some critics say have been rushed into New York classrooms with poor results. The standards define what students should know in each grade in order to graduate ready for college.

“One in four students still aren’t graduating after four years,” King said, “and far too many students, even if they graduate from high school, still haven’t completed the advanced and rigorous course work to be ready for college or the workplace.”

The June 2012 graduation rate was 74 percent.

In districts with large numbers of low-income families, the 2013 graduation rate was 66 percent, compared with 94 percent for students in more affluent districts.

Similar gaps were seen in the percentage of white graduates and their black and Hispanic peers. The gaps were even larger when looking at those attaining advanced diplomas, which require passing grades on eight Regents exams.

Overall, 31 percent of those who entered high school in 2009 received a Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation.

“Unfortunately, achievement gaps for minority students are not abating, especially when it comes to advanced designation diplomas,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said. “There’s clearly a lack of equity in access in the course offerings necessary for the advanced designation.”

Among the Big Five districts, Buffalo saw the only notable increase, posting a 53 percent graduation rate, nearly seven points higher than in 2012.

Interim Superintendent Will Keresztes credited the work of students and staff as well as incentives like the Say Yes to Education program’s offer of free college tuition for graduates.

Parent leader Sam Radford III, however, noted the rate has been rising and falling in recent years and cautioned against getting “overly excited.”

“No significant changes have been in place where we can say, ‘OK, this is something we’re doing right and we should do more of it,'” he said.

Meanwhile, the state has begun auditing McKinley and East high schools.

Ken Slentz, State Deputy Commissioner for P-12 Education, said, “I would issue a note of caution at this point until we have final audited numbers. Remember the graduation rate is based on data for any district, data that is provided to us. We don’t audit all of those submissions so we want to hold off on drawing any immediate conclusions until we see the audit for those two schools in particular.”

The final results from the audit are expected in September.

Rochester had the lowest rate of the Big Five, holding at 43 percent, followed by Syracuse, where 49 percent earned a high-school diploma, compared with 48 percent in 2012.

New York City graduated 61 percent of those who entered high school in 2009, compared to 60 percent of 2008 freshmen. Yonkers maintained its 66 percent graduation rate.

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