THE BRONX — The city's graduation rate has hit an all-time high with 72.6 percent of students graduating in four years compared to 70.5 percent last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said Friday.
"This is now citywide progress," de Blasio said of the 3 percent increase as he highlighted across-the-board improvements in graduation rates, especially for black and Latino students and in every borough.
According to the Department of Education, 68 percent of black students graduated in four years, up from 65.4 percent in 2015. The dropout rate for black students dipped slightly to 8.8 percent from 9.3 percent.
Latino students increased their four year graduation rate to 66.9 percent from 64 percent while their dropout rate also dipped slightly to 11.2 percent from 11.9 percent.
The overall dropout rate is at 8.5 percent, down from 9 percent last year, another record low, said city officials.
"The goal is that every young person, even if they don't necessarily graduate in four years, they graduate," said the mayor during the press conference at the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice.
David Bloomfield, education professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, said graduation rates are always "questionable." But the jump in the graduation rate from 69.6 percent in June to the final 72.6 percent in August is likely "based wholly in intensive instruction to get borderline students diplomas without retained learning."
In other statistics, the graduation rate for English Language Learners declined by 24 percent for the 2016 school year with only 30.8 percent of those currently classified as such graduating in four years compared to 40.5 percent in 2015.
The percentage of all students ready for college increased to 37.2 percent from 34.6 percent and the percentage of graduates who are college-ready is now at 50.7 percent up from 49.1 percent.
Mona Davids, president of the Parents Union, an advocacy group, said the city's numbers are flawed because of the inclusion of Renewal Schools with lower standards toward graduation. The Renewal Schools effort was designed to give struggling schools additional support and resources to improve.
That nearly half of graduates are not college-ready is "criminal," said Davids, especially since black and Latino students make up a large percentage of that cohort.
"Renewal Schools are a joke when it comes to what's needed to graduate, credit recovery schemes and the milestones used to determine progress," said Davids. "The fact that students aren't college ready hasn't changed and neither has the fact that the city is still handing out free diplomas."
Even though she doesn't trust the city's numbers, the decline in graduation rates among English Language Learners is particularly troubling, said Davids.
The English Language Learners' drop-out rate increased to 27 percent from 21.5 percent.
"Clearly the English Language Learners system is not working. Maybe the students need more resources. We can't have declining numbers like that," she said.
Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children of New York said the city needs to do a better job of providing "equitable access" for English Language Learners.
Fariña said the English Language Learners often struggle because of their circumstances.
"They are coming from war-torn countries, they are coming from the mountains. Some of them have never been to school," said the chancellor.
There are also fewer English language learners as students' skills improve and they move out of the designation, said Fariña.
Bloomfield said the decrease in the English Language Learners graduation rate due to fewer students being categorized as such "holds water."
Other graduation figures the city held up as a sign of improvement include an increase in the four year graduation rate of students with disabilities to 44.8 percent from 41.1 percent. The dropout rate for those students also decreased to 14.5 percent from 15.4 percent.
The percentage of students earning Regents diplomas also increased to 49.2 percent from 48 percent. And the graduation gap between black and Latino students compared to white students also decreased slightly.
De Blasio said implementing universal pre-K and a program where students get an advisor assigned just to them will take a while to show up in the graduation statistics but are changing the system now.
"Seeing an increase in graduation rate and seeing these initiatives, it encourages people," said the mayor. "They say, 'Now I'm a part of something.'"