By Jill Colvin
CITY HALL — The city's graduation rate soared to a record-setting 65.1 percent last year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced Tuesday. But most of those who graduated still aren't college-ready, according to new numbers released by the state.
Of the students who entered ninth grade in 2006, 61 percent had graduated by June 2010, up two points from the year before, the numbers show. If August graduates are included, that number hits 65.1 percent — a 40 percent boost since 2005.
"I don’t think anyone could have predicted in their wildest dreams that we would be so successful," said Bloomberg, who touted the gains at a press conference at the Harry Van Arsdale Educational Campus in Brooklyn Tuesday afternoon.
But the numbers also show that just 21.4 percent of city students in the group reached the state's bar for being "college ready," meaning they earned a score of at least 75 on an English Regents exam and at least 80 in math.
The numbers are mixed news for Bloomberg, who has long-used the rising rates as evidence that his schools agenda has been working, despite harsh criticism.
The administration is currently facing intense scrutiny from education advocates as the mayor continues to threaten to eliminate more than 6,000 teachers because of budget shortfalls.
But the mayor said that even if kids aren't college-ready, a diploma is invaluable when it comes to finding a job.
"Without a high school diploma, your options are so limited," he said.
The numbers also show significant gains in performance by black and Hispanic students.
In 2010, a record-setting 60 percent of black students and 58.3 percent of Hispanic students graduated within four years, including August grads.
That's up from 2005, when just 40 percent of black students and 37 percent of Hispanics graduated in four years, Bloomberg said.
New Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott applauded the gains as "historic progress" for minority students.
"It's just a record that I don’t think anyone expected us to achieve," Bloomberg said.
But despite the gains, an achievement gap persists between minority and white students, with a 17.6 percent gap between black and white graduation rates, and a 20 percent gap between Hispanics and whites, according to the stats.
"There is no doubt we we have a lot of work to do," Walcott said.
State officials also said there's room for improvement state-wide, and are working on boosting standards so that kids are better prepared for college-level work.
"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," Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said in a statement.
When it comes to graduation rates, the city trails behind the state overall, where 73.4 percent of students who started 9th grade in 2006 had graduated by June 2010.
Critics, including Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, have long accused the city of "inflating" its graduation rates by allowing students to enroll in so-called "credit recovery programs" that allow them to quickly catch up on missed work or pushing low-performing students to transfer to GED programs or alternative high schools.
They also charge schools of erroneously classifying some who've dropped out as "discharges" — a category that’s supposed to be reserved for students who’ve left the school or transferred out of the system.
A recent audit by the State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli concluded the city’s high school dropout rate is up to three and a half points higher than the city claims because of such mistakes.