Editor's note: This article was updated at 2:40 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 8. Gloversville's graduation rate rose from 2016 to 2017.
SCHENECTADY — High school graduation rates for students who received diplomas in June rose statewide — topping 80 percent — but slid in Schenectady, dipping below 60 percent.
New York state graduation rates rose slightly from 79.7 percent in June 2016 to 80.2 percent last June, though, of 33 Capital Region districts, 20 registered flat or declining graudation rates, according to state data released Wednesday.
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School marked one of the highest graduation rates in the area -- 98 percent -- with just five out of the class' 270 students not graduating in June; two of them graduated in August, lifting the school's graduation rate to 99 percent. Northville, with a class of just 27 students, graduated all of its students in June, giving the Adirondack school a 100 percent graduation rate.
Other area districts fared less well: Schenectady High School measured in with the region's lowest graduation at 59 percent, down from 65 percent the year before. Amsterdam High School's graduation rate fell from 77 percent in June 2016 to 71 percent last June.
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia on Wednesday said the graduation rates across the state marked steady progress — up nearly 12 percentage points over 10 years — but also highlighted persistent differences between black and Hispanic students and their white classmates.
She also pointed to a troubling trend among students classified as "English language learners," whose graduation rates have slid over the past three years and whose drop-out rates have increased. Amsterdam's numbers appeared to reflect the rising concerns about how the English language learners are faring in school. While the district only reported 11 English language learners as part of the cohort, none of them graduated and seven of them dropped out of school. The high school's overall drop-out rate increased from 8 percent in 2016 to 15 percent last year, with Hispanic drop-out rates reaching 20 percent.
Amsterdam schools have also seen a recent influx of English language learners who have migrated to the city after being displaced by hurricanes that devastated Puerto Rico.
Schenectady schools, which already lag state and regional graduation rate averages, fell further behind last year, when graduation rates started to slip after a gradual improvement that culminated in a 10-year high in 2016. While the 2016 graduating class — self-dubbed "the greatest of all time" — set a high-water mark for recent graduating classes and boosted its five-year graduation rate to 70 percent in this year's data, the cohort of students that followed fell about 6 percentage points short of the mark set the year before.
Schenectady Superintendent Larry Spring had said on the eve of the June graduation that he expected graduation rates to fall, compared with 2016, but the rates published by state officials Wednesday suggested a slightly deeper drop than Spring expected. He had predicted the high school graduation rate would likely hover just above 60 percent. The high school June graduation rate was 59 percent, compared with 65 percent the year before, according to the state data.
The district graduation rate — which includes students served outside the district — was at 57 percent in June, down from 62 percent the year before.
Spring said school and district officials had expected last year's graduating class to struggle to hit the graduation rates of the previous year, citing challenges students in that cohort had as freshmen and noting budget years full of dramatic cuts to students services.
"Does it bother me that we were not able to recover as many of those kids as we would have liked? Yes, it certainly does. But at the same time it's not terribly surprising to me that in that [freshman] year those kids were really struggling was also the year we were cutting millions and millions of dollars to kids," Spring said Wednesday. "I think it's unsurprising that when you cut all of those services kids don't do as well."
Schenectady officials highlight the August graduation rates, compared to the June rates, as a sign of student and staff persistence in getting students to the finish line: The high school's August rates fell from 69 percent in 2016 to 63 percent in 2017.
As a new state school accountability system takes hold, it appears Schenectady will avoid an automatic classification as a state school that is in need of comprehensive support, if only by a few percentage points.
Any school with a graduation rate less than 67 percent — based on either its four-year, five-year or six-year rates — will automatically be classified as needing state intervention. Schenectady High School registered a 70 percent graduation rate for students who started school in 2012 and graduated after 5 years, but it fails to meet the 67 percent mark for either its four-year or six-year rates. Spring said the district would be willing partners if state officials determined they were in need of additional supports.
"We are incredibly under-resourced, so if the state has the ability to bring some people in with expertise to help us with some things, whether we are on a list or not, we want those people's time," Spring said, adding that district staff has a sense of urgency around the need to improve student outcomes regardless of how the state ranks them. "Internally, I don't think we need a list to get us feeling some urgency to do things differently for kids."
State officials plan to formally announce in the fall which schools and districts are in need of comprehensive state support under the new accountability system.
By the numbers
|2016 graduation rate||2017 graduation rate|
|South Glens Falls||84%||86%|