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City Graduation Rates Reach Record High as Critics Warn of Lower Standards

By Amy Zimmer | January 11, 2016 3:49pm
 A classroom at the Frederick Douglass Academy II  in Morningside Heights.
A classroom at the Frederick Douglass Academy II in Morningside Heights.
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DNAinfo/Emily Frost

MANHATTAN — An estimated 70.5 percent of the Class of 2015 graduated in four years — a record high for the city, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced Monday.

The Department of Education touted improving graduation rates across the board. Hispanic students saw the biggest gain at 2.5 points in the past year, increasing to 64 percent. Rates for Asian students jumped 2.4 points to 85 percent, while black students saw a 1.7-point increase to 65.4 percent and white students saw a 1.4-point gain to 82 percent.

Graduation rates for students with disabilities also rose slightly to 37.6 percent (up 1 point) and English Language Learners were up to 36.5 percent (up 4 points).

Dropout rates declined across the board slightly, with Hispanic students seeing an 11.9 percent dropout rate, Black students a 9.3 percent dropout rate, white students with a 5.2 percent rate and Asian students with a 4.6 percent rate.

“The increase in graduation and college and career readiness rates represents important progress, yet there is so much more to do to ensure equity and excellence in classrooms across all five boroughs,” Fariña said in a statement.

Still, some watchdogs accused the school system of lowering standards to increase the graduation rate.

“It’s good news if it shows real, sustainable academic progress and not an increase in Bloomberg-era shortcuts like credit recovery,” said David Bloomfield, education professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.

Bronx parent Mona Davids, who is president of the Parents Union advocacy group, said advocates in her group “do not believe the kids who are receiving diplomas are college-ready.”

Davids said her group is concerned that high schools have been motivated to wave students through — setting them up to fail when they get to college and have to pay for remedial courses to get up to speed.

Fewer than half of city students met state and city college readiness standards, according to DOE data, but the percentage of students from the Class of 2015 grew slightly.

Some 42.6 percent of students met the state’s “Aspirational Performance Measures,” which requires students receive a score of 80 or higher on a math Regents and a score of 75 or higher on an English Regents. That was up 3.2 percentage points from the year before.

Just above 49 percent of city high schoolers met the city’s “College Readiness Index,” which involves meeting certain SAT or ACT scores — up 1.8 percentage points from the previous year.

DOE officials said they've been expanding efforts around college readiness with the de Blasio administration’s programs like College Access for All, where all students are supposed to be given resources and supports to pursue a college path.

There's also AP for All, where every student is supposed to have access to a range of AP courses, and — starting in January 2017 — the new SAT School Day, where all students will participate in the SAT exam during the school day instead of having to take it on a weekend.