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Grad rates rise in Capital Region and across state

Grad rates rise in Capital Region and across state

Progress is slow but steady in many districts
Grad rates rise in Capital Region and across state
Class of 2019 graduates move their tassels during the 66th Shenendehowa High School commencement in June.
Photographer: Erica Miller

CAPITAL REGION -- Graduation rates increased slightly across the Capital Region and the state last year, even as some area districts slipped in the percentage of students earning diplomas, according to 2019 graduation data released Thursday.

The combined graduation rate of 36 Capital Region school districts increased by just less than 1 percentage point – rising from 84.3 in 2018 to 85.2 in 2019 – roughly matching the statewide graduation rate increase of just under 1 percentage point.

Of those 36 districts, 22 increased their graduation rate while 14 districts saw their graduation rates slip at least some. 

The Schenectady City School District increased its graduation rate from 61 percent in 2018 to 68 percent in 2019, marking the district’s highest graduation figure in at least a decade. But Scotia-Glenville schools appeared to mark one of the biggest graduation rate improvements, lifting the district’s graduation rate from 83 percent in 2018 to 92 percent in 2019 and bringing it nearer the top tier of districts in the region. Fonda-Fultonville graduated 76 of the 78 students in its senior cohort, registering a graduation rate of over 97 percent. Northville, Middleburgh and Fort Plain, all districts with fewer than 70 students in the senior class, all had graduation rates in the mid-90s. 

Of the region’s larger districts, Niskayuna scored the highest graduation rate at just over 95 percent. But Shenendehowa, which graduated 94.5 percent of its over 800 students in the senior class, registered the highest share of graduates earning an Advanced Regents diploma, which requires students to pass more than just the five mandatory Regents exams; 70 percent of the district’s seniors earned the advanced diploma.

The statewide high school graduation rate also rose slightly last year, from 82.6 percent in 2018 to 83.4 percent in 2019, according to the latest graduation rate data the state Education Department released Thursday.

The state's graduation rate has been on a steady, albeit gradual, incline in recent years, increasing from 76 percent in 2010. The state has also somewhat narrowed the yawning disparity in graduation rates among students of different races, although a significant gap still exists between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian classmates.

In 2019, statewide graduation rates for both white and Asian students neared or topped 90 percent, while 75 percent of the state's black students and 74.5 percent of Hispanic students graduated high school last year. That gap of 15 percentage points  is actually an improvement over the gap of 24 percentage points of a decade ago.

“We are starting to see a trend of narrowing achievement gaps,” interim state Education Commissioner Shannon Tahoe said Thursday on a conference call with reporters. “[But] we know troubling gaps in achievement persist. They are still too large and that must be addressed.”

The state also marked an increase in students graduating through alternative graduation pathways the Board of Regents has adopted in recent years as new options for students. Tahoe defended those new graduation pathways as an effort to allow students to demonstrate academic proficiency in ways they may be more interested in. 

“We know the graduation rate could be even higher if students are given options to demonstrate they are proficient in standards in different ways,” Tahoe said after a reporter asked whether the diploma requirements had been “watered down.” 

Schenectady graduation rates

Schenectady increased its district graduation rate to over 68 percent and topped 70 percent at just Schenectady High School last year.

Superintendent Larry Spring said many of the previous student classes had been devastated by earlier years of budget cuts and a withdrawal of key services. And while last year's graduates suffered the impacts of the cuts as they worked their way through middle school, they also benefited from investments made in more recent years, he said.

“In the last few years we stopped the cutting and we actually reversed it and we have been adding services in,” Spring said.

Some of those investments have supported efforts at the high school to identify students not on track to graduate and provide them with personalized and customized plans to make up missed work, retake tests and get back on track to graduate. 

“Rather than just saying, ‘Oh well, we’ve got to suffer with that,’ and let a lot of kids go to the wayside, we put in some programs that are designed to be really responsive to individual kids’ needs,” Spring said.

The district is also relying more on local diploma options adopted by the state in recent years to graduate students: Students with disabilities can earn a local diploma through a “safety net” that allows them to graduate even if they haven’t passed all five Regents exams; students with disabilities can also graduate under a superintendent’s determination that they demonstrated proficiency in core subjects through an examination of class work and other indicators. About 10 percent of the senior class, or 80 students, graduated with a local diploma. That was up from 54 local diplomas in 2018.

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