Trouble four years ago is back to haunt the graduating class at Schenectady High School.
The class of 2014 had a record number of students fail ninth grade, with 180 teens held back to do the year again.
That left the class with just 553 students who could graduate on time. Even if every remaining student put on a perfect academic performance for three full years, the best the class could do was a 75 percent graduation rate. As the years wore on, the class lost more students, who dropped out or repeated a grade. With every loss, the potential graduation rate dropped.
Now there are just 508 left, and Principal Diane Wilkinson figures only about 400 of them will be able to march across the stage June 27.
Another 25 students should finish by August after retaking Regents exams, she said. But even then, the best the class can do is a 60 percent graduation rate.
After last year’s 65 percent rate, the drop this year is a bit of a disappointment to school officials.
But they knew all year that 60 percent was about the best they could do, “if we did a great job,” Superintendent Laurence Spring said.
The deeply troubling part is the number of students who won’t graduate at all, he said.
Of the students who are held back in high school, usually only about 25 of them ever graduate.
Last year, 20 students graduated as “fifth-year” seniors. This year, that might improve: There are 35 fifth-year students who could graduate.
Still, at least 137 students who would have been in the class of 2014 left school without finishing or getting an equivalency diploma.
And that’s just this year’s class. Other classes had fewer students held back in ninth grade, but still ended up with 200 or more without diplomas.
That number has compounded over time. According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, about 7,050 adults in Schenectady — age 25 and older — did not finish high school and do not have their equivalency diploma. Of those residents, only about half have a job, according to the Census.
The next strategy for the unemployed high school dropouts is, of course, to get a high school equivalency diploma.
It’s hard: Students must study for months or years to pass an exam, now called the TASC. (Until this year, the exam was called the GED; now it’s known as the Test Assessing Secondary Completion.)
Less than a third of the high school’s dropouts take that option, especially just after dropping out. About 65 to 75 youth under the age of 21 earn the equivalency diploma every year, said Jesse Roylance, director at Washington Irving Adult and Continuing Education Center.
Lots of them try — this academic year, he met 119 students who dropped out of Schenectady High School and wanted to take the TASC exams. But it’s harder than it seems.
“A lot of times, the toughest student we will have will be the one who dropped out yesterday,” Roylance said.
They don’t want to study or attend the free classes at Washington Irving, he said. They often leave, intending to get jobs or enter training programs.
That’s when reality hits, he said.
“If you don’t have 11th- or 12th-grade vocabulary, you are not going to be successful in those training programs. Once they’ve discovered how difficult that is, they’ll come back to me and be highly motivated,” he said. “Once they realize that, ‘Wow, I really do need this,’ they are some of our best students.”
He’s content to wait for them to come to that realization. Washington Irving is open to all — teens, adults, even the elderly.
“When you really want it, the pathway out of poverty is there,” he said.