More Queens students graduated in 2011 than ever before, though 35 percent of the borough’s pupils are still not donning a cap and gown within four years of entering high school, according to data released by the state Education Department this week.
Statewide, 74 percent of students who started ninth grade in 2007 graduated by June 2011, up slightly from the 73.4 percent of those entering high school in 2006 and graduating by 2010. About 60.9 percent of students citywide graduated within four years in 2011, a minute decrease from the 61 percent who did the same the previous year.
“New York’s overall graduation rate has improved, but nearly a quarter of our students still don’t graduate after four years,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said after the data was released on Monday. “And too many of those students who do graduate aren’t ready for college or careers.”
In Queens, 13,126 of the 20,206 students who began high school in 2007 graduated by June 2011 —65 percent. About 57.2 percent of students, and 88 percent of the graduates, earned a Regents diploma
Tisch took a more pessimistic view of the data than her counterparts in the city, including Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.
“These numbers make clear that we need to continue to pursue aggressive reforms in our schools, including a new, richer curriculum and implementation of the new teacher evaluation law in districts across the state,” Tisch said, referencing changes to annual assessments of teachers that place more of an emphasis on standardized test scores.
Bloomberg and Walcott painted a rosier picture, saying that while the four-year rate was 60.9 percent last June, it grew to about 65 percent for students who graduated by August. The two city leaders also noted that 55.7 percent of graduates earned a Regents diploma in 2011, compared to 51.3 percent in 2010.
“More students are succeeding in our schools than ever before,” Bloomberg said at a press conference on Monday. “When our administration began, schools hadn’t seen significant increases in their graduation rates in more than a decade. Yet, through our strategies to improve education, we’ve steadily improved graduation rates and student achievement for the 10th consecutive year.”
Parents and educators said they worry graduation rates will drop next year because, beginning this school year, students no longer can opt for the less-demanding local diploma and must pass rigorous tests to receive the Regents diploma. About 10 percent of the city’s graduates typically receive a local diploma.
Parents said they are concerned city officials could use the new, more damaging numbers to close schools that typically outperform their peers across the borough, and city —such as Bayside High School in school District 26, which covers schools in northern Queens.
“District 26 is the only district in New York City that is not a ‘district in need of improvement,’” Queens High School Council President David Solano, whose daughter attends Bayside, said, referring to the federal designation for school districts that have not met standardized test requirements. “But we have four out of five high schools categorized as ‘in need of improvement’ because they haven’t been able to make the numbers on subgroups of English Language Learners and special ed. When does that ‘in need of improvement’ turn into ‘persistently lowest achieving?’”
After the state places a school on what is called the “persistently lowest achieving” list, the city is mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act to implement a plan to better the institution. Recently, the city opted to close seven Queens schools, and reopen them with new staff and new names this fall —a controversial plan that drew the ire of many legislators, students and parents.
With the new Regents mandate, as well as English Language Learners and special education students being held to the same standards as their peers, Solano said schools, especially in an immigrant-heavy area like Queens, could be at a major disadvantage. He worries the mayor could even try to shutter schools like Bayside or Francis Lewis.
“I don't consider it a real threat, but is it possible?” he said. “Yes.”