The overall graduation rate at the region's high schools rose slightly in June, reaching nearly 83 percent and mirroring a statewide trend. But not all districts shared in the gains.
The state’s overall graduation continued its upward trajectory, rising slightly to 80.4 percent.
Across 36 Capital Region school districts, 20 improved graduation rates from June 2017 to June 2018, while 16 lost ground over that time, according to 2018 graduation rate data released Wednesday by the state Department of Education.
Mohonasen Central School District registered one of the biggest drops in graduation rates last year, while Middleburgh Central School District improved its by over 10 percentage points.
Schenectady City School District's graduation rate remained essentially flat, with 58 percent of its seniors graduating last year, the lowest graduation rate in the region. But Superintendent Larry Spring on Wednesday said he expected the 2018 graduation rates to mark a low point for the district as he sees signs that this year’s current class will usher in an upward trend in the district’s rates.
“Those kids were going through their most vulnerable year, the most influential years contributing to graduation, when every single year, it’s not just that we were paring back resources, their schools were reorganizing to deal with the lack of resources,” Spring said, citing a series of budget cuts that hit the district when last year’s seniors were moving through their crucial eighth and ninth grade years.
Spring said not until the last two years has the district been able to invest in supports and programs for students across the district. He said now the high school should offer students an increasingly stable and supportive environment, bolstering graduate rates over time.
But many Schenectady students still face serious barriers to academic success: Spring said the district needs to do more to work with students to plan for the life circumstances that sometimes get in the way of graduation, pointing to teen parents as an example.
“I’m hoping that this [current senior class], while they were the nadir of the least amount of resources, it’s actually going to be the leading edge back into this improvement cycle and it will continue from there, because each cohort after that has had little bit more and little bit more of supports around them,” Spring said.
Some district students were enrolled in other programs, but they are counted as district students for the purpose of the Education Department's statistics. For Schenectady High School alone, the graduation rate came in at 59 percent in June and improved to 63 percent in August, as students had a chance to finish outstanding requirements over the summer.
“The data shows persistence pays off,” state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday. She was referring to districts who see graduation rate growth from June to August.
Middleburgh Central School District made the biggest gains of any district in the region, improving its graduation rate from 81 percent in June 2017 to 92 percent in June 2018. And the district also saw far more of its students graduate with advanced diplomas, which require them to complete extra coursework and pass additional exams. Last year, 39 Middleburgh students earned advanced diplomas – 46 percent of the graduating class – compared with 17 students the year before.
“It does represent some meaningful changes here in Middleburgh,” said Superintendent Brian Dunn, who took lead of the district last year. “We are trying to raise expectations, taking a data-driven approach to identify students struggling earlier and to challenge them.”
Dunn said Middleburgh’s small classes foster an individualized approach for each student, and he said he plans to maintain and improve on last year’s rise in graduation rate.
“One thing we can say pretty confidently is we don’t intend to take many steps back,” Dunn said. “That’s what the Board of Education expects from me and the leadership team, that we continue to grow.”
Graduation rates in Mohonasen Central School District, however, appeared to be headed in the wrong direction: The rate fell from 88 percent in June 2017 to 82 percent in June 2018. The district’s high school-only graduation rate – excluding students who attend other programs – slipped from 89 percent in 2017 to 84 percent last year.
Mohonasen Superintendent Shannon Shine, who joined the district at the start of this school year, on Wednesday said he is focused on bolstering programs in the earliest grades so that students are well prepared by the time they get to high school. He also said in recent years an increasing number of district students come from economically disadvantaged background, intensifying the need to improve student supports in earlier.
“As I’ve come into Mohonasen, one of the first things I want to make sure we are starting well,” Shine said. “I want to make better-prepared students coming in to high school and that will combat the overall declining trend.”
At the high school level, Shine said the district is providing students afterschool tutoring and transportation three days a week and implementing a new credit recovery program that identifies what specific content areas a student struggles with. He also pointed to the district’s move to host a regional summer school program, giving Mohonasen students the comfort of going to summer school in their home district.
More than a dozen other districts – including Niskayuna, Scotia-Glenville, Northville, Fort Plain and Galway among them – lost at least some ground on the graduation rates. Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, which has had among the highest graduation rates in the region in recent years, saw its rate slip from 97 percent in 2017 to 94 percent last year. Even with the slippage, though, Burnt Hills joined Guilderland, Schuylerville and North Colonie in having the highest graduation rates in the region at around 94 percent.