School districts across the region registered varying results in 2015 graduation rates released by the state Education Department on Monday.
The Schenectady City School District saw a slight improvement in its rate, which has persistently struggled to top 60 percent, while the neighboring Niskayuna Central School District dropped its towering graduation performance from 95 percent to 90 percent.
Schoharie Central School District dropped 6 percentage points between 2014 and 2015 — from 90 percent to 84 percent — but Broadalbin-Perth Central School District’s graduation rate jumped from 85 percent to 91 percent.
At a glance
A look at graduation rates for area school districts from June 2014 and June 2015:
North Colonie: 93%/93%
South Colonie: 86%/88%
St. Johnsville: 65%/72%
Fort Plain: 82%/85%
So. Glens Falls: 83%/80%
Ballston Spa: 87%/88%
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake: 94%/95%
Saratoga Springs: 90%/89%
Sharon Springs: 77%/87%
“If I knew the secret for the last 10 percent, I would bottle it up and sell it,” said Scotia-Glenville Superintendent Susan Swartz. That district improved its graduation figures from 80 percent in 2014 to 89 percent in 2015 and slashed its dropout rate by 8 percentage points.
The graduation rates released by the state were based on students who graduated in June after four years of high school. Districts will often see improvements in their graduation rates as students finish requirements in July and August.
Matt Leon, a spokesman for Niskayuna schools, in a written statement Monday cited the “variety of methodologies” used to calculate graduation rates and said the district’s “internal figures show a consistent graduation rate.”
Of 33 districts in six counties across the Capital Region, 17 improved their graduation rates from the previous year, 14 saw declines in the rate and in two districts the graduation rates remained flat, according to the state figures.
Counties in the area also saw mixed results, with graduation rates sliding in Montgomery and Schoharie counties — 2 and 3 percentage points, respectively — while improving in Fulton County by 4 percentage points. Countywide rates in Saratoga and Schenectady counties were unchanged.
New York’s statewide graduation rate improved from 76.4 percent in 2014 to 78.1 percent in 2015. But while the state has made consistent improvements in its overall graduation rates, it has yet to make substantial progress closing the so-called achievement gap that leaves minority students trailing their white peers on average.
“The achievement gap is still significant and our dropout rates are still a significant thing,” Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia told the Board of Regents during its monthly meeting Monday.
In New York, 62 percent of black and Hispanic students graduated in 2014, compared with 87 percent of white students. Black and Hispanic graduation rates improved to 65 percent in 2015 as 88 percent of white students graduated. Female students out-graduated their male counterparts 82 percent to 74 percent in 2015.
While the state’s figures listed Schenectady’s rate as staying flat at 56 percent, Superintendent Laurence Spring pointed out Monday that the district’s graduation rate improved slightly when accounting for students who finished requirements in July and August — moving from 58 percent in 2014 to 59 percent in 2015. Moreover, he said, the graduation rate for Schenectady High School last year — 61 percent — outperforms the district’s overall graduation rate, which includes students who attend BOCES and other programs outside the high school.
In Schenectady schools, Spring said, the graduation rates reflect the challenges of a low-income, high-needs school district. He said the strains of poverty — such as mental health stresses, high rates of transiency for students moving in and out of the district, and problems with student attendance — make graduating students a constant battle.
He pointed to transiency as an especially difficult challenge, noting that in 2014, of around 100 students who had attended Schenectady schools since kindergarten, 97 percent graduated on time. The district is focused on intervening with struggling students as soon as possible, engaging students who miss a high percentage of classes and developing a mindset in teachers, parents and students that the path to graduation starts at the earliest grades.
“When we dig into those numbers and take a look at who is in those rates, the longer we keep kids in the district, the longer we have stability and consistency with them, the greater the likelihood they will graduate,” Spring said.
In the Scotia-Glenville district, where the graduation rate improved 9 percentage points, Swartz said the students who continue to struggle with graduation requirements have increasingly intractable problems. She said getting that final group of students across the graduation stage will require a broader community effort that connects the district with court and probation systems, and mental health providers such as Four Winds Hospital in Saratoga Springs. She said a lot of those students are living on their own or are wrapped up in the juvenile court system.
“It’s hard for them to focus on traditional school and traditional content to be successful, because there is so much going on in their life,” Swartz said.