Beyond Credit Recovery: Who Are the Students Who Don’t Graduate, and, Why Are They Failing to Graduate?

Mayors are judged by falling crime rates and increasing student test scores and graduation rates.

The reasons for falling crime rates are complex and controversial, Giuliani boasted of a “broken windows” strategy, Bloomberg pointed to “stop and frisk.” Criminologists and sociologists muse: ComStat, better policing, more cops on the street or maybe Roe v Wade (See the Roe v. Wade arguments here and here)

Donohue-Levitt hypothesis that legalized abortion in the 1970s explains a substantial part of the crime decline in the 1990s …individuals born into poverty in high crime neighborhoods who were likely to commit crimes were never born.

Bloomberg touted higher test scores and graduation rate increases, although the test score claims were widely challenged. Graduation rates did rise and the closing of large dysfunctional high schools and the creation of small schools were responsible. Too many high schools had been floundering for decades, the board of education leadership simply followed a triage model, allowing schools to fail by tracking kids to failing or succeeding schools; Taft in the Bronx and Jefferson in Brooklyn were the dumping grounds. Klein closed the schools beyond the tipping point as well as many schools that were addressing the issues. The creation of hundreds of small schools led to greater personalization, teacher collaboration, and, unfortunately “progressive” policies that verged on inappropriate – “generous” scoring of regents exams and granting of credits for subpar work. The Farina administration continued the same highly questionable practices; until the recent New York Post assault.

Article after article exposed egregious acts, changing grades (‘rescoring”) and the dubious practice called credit recovery – kids who failed subjects received credit for minimal work School principals set passing quotas, complaints were brushed aside by the investigative arm of the department and Sol Stern takes the chancellor to task for a career of “progressive” ideas that, in Stern’s opinion have resulted in ill-prepared students and teachers.

The department has responded by claiming that only .15% of high school students (6,000 out of over 300,000 earned credit through credit recovery) and intends to closely monitor and reduce the number sharply in the future.

The goal of education policy must not be to elect mayors or burnish legacies; the goal is to graduate kids prepared for post-secondary education. High student failure rates are distressing and the blame should be placed at the feet of the electeds and school district and state leaders who established the flawed policies.

There are core questions that must be explored: Are current New York State graduation requirements fair and equitable for all students? Are we asking too much of students, or, are we appropriately preparing them for the cold, cruel future in a rapidly changing economy?

Over the last twenty years the state has made dramatic changes to graduation requirements

In the mid-nineties the regents began the phase-out the local diploma and move to a single regents diploma. The majority of students in the state were settling for a local diploma that did not require any regents exams – the “regents competency test,” the RCT, was at the eighth or ninth grade level. The move to the single regents diploma was highly controversial. The plan was to drop the “passing” grade on all regents to 55 and phase up to 65 over four years – it took ten years to totally phase out the RCT. Along the way the regents changed: the English exam from a two-day six hour exam to a one-day three hour exam, the global regents will move from an exam covering the ninth and tenth grade curriculum to a tenth grade only exam.

The state is beginning to phase in the common core regents exams; the plan is to phase in the exams over eight years with the scores being scaled each year until fully phased in.

As we continue to ratchet up the rigor of the work, basically raising the bar for students, teachers and school leaders, how are we addressing the students who are unable to meet the new, higher standards?

New York State does have the highest standards of any state in the nation.

Most states across the country demonstrated large discrepancies between student proficiency rates as reported by state tests and rates measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “the Nation’s Report Card.” However, New York was one of only two states to achieve proficiency benchmarks that are more rigorous than NAEP

Should we applaud and pat ourselves on the back or should we be concerned with the 25% of students who do not graduate?

Latest state data reports that the six year graduation rate for students with disabilities is 53% – the state graduation for all students is 76%.

Students with disabilities have an Individual Education Plan, an IEP that determines levels of services, perhaps a self-contained class with lower class size, or a class with a paraprofessional, or, guidance services, the student is expected to pass the same regents exams as all other students. In other words the IEP directed services are expected to “cure” the student of the disability.

The Committee on Special Education and the school-based teams that determine levels of services should also determine graduation requirements appropriate to the handicap of the student. The IEP should become the Individual Education and Graduation Plan. Should we assume that students with dyslexia can master the common core Algebra regents? These decisions should be left to the educators who determine the student’s education plan.

Currently there are two choices: a regents diploma or the C-DOS credential. The C-DOS credential is not a diploma – the Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) Commencement Credential is intended for moderately to severely handicapped students, a small percent of students with disabilities. The modifications to the regents diploma could be attached to the diploma. Currently we condemn a cohort of kids who have passed all of their subjects, and pass some of their regents. The failure to pass regents due to a handicapping condition should not bar a student from a regents diploma.

Additionally English language learners (ESL) only have a graduation rate of 31%; Afro-American male students have distressingly low graduation rates. As we look around the state some schools have graduation rates for ESL students that approach the rates for all students, and, the same holds for Afro-American male students: why are some schools highly successful and others stumbling? The skills of the school leader and teachers? Greater access to funding? Larger numbers of teachers with language skills or minority teachers and school leaders?

Before the state embarks on major changes to graduation requirements, aside from the obvious changes regarding students with disabilities, the state should explore: who are the 25% who fail to graduate, and why do they fail to graduate?

I suspect the large percentage of kids who fail to graduate have dropped out of school; I also suspect we can identify kids most likely to drop out early in their school career.

We could probably provide a school with a list of fourth graders likely to drop out of high school and require the school to intervene and track the success, or lack thereof, of the intervention.

The Cuomo approach: flail teachers and school leaders is asinine. Chase out the “bad” teachers has resulted in discouraging kids from entering teaching.

Let’s allow educators to guide not only the student with disability education plan but also the requirements for graduation and let’s take a deep dive into who is not graduating and why?


2 responses to “Beyond Credit Recovery: Who Are the Students Who Don’t Graduate, and, Why Are They Failing to Graduate?

  1. who they are is not the real question..Its what they are…Our school system is home to thousands of 1st year non english speaking students, who in their innocense and with their parents or guardinas consent are immediately handicapped when they are fiirst placed in schools. Those that need ESl placement or service, dont receive that service until a full school profile has been completed of eligible students. SO usually by mid or past mid Oct their classes are organized. Immediately they are 2 months behind their reg ed counterparts. And make no mistake, while they are classified as reg ed, their needs are really that of special ed attention. With that said, one of the things I would look at is the availability of schools or mini schools to be created as 1st year Remedial Literacy Schools. we all know that children adapyt and learn more readily then adults. These students would not be subjected or counted in school wide first year state exams fro literacy. They would however be required to meet a competency level at the end of their 1st year remedial literacy experince. What about subj content you ask? Literacy content can be delivered via scoience, social studies and english content. Following a remedial literacy passing grade, those students would then be transferred into their mainstream schools with the non stigma of being illiterate. Those mainstream schools in turn would be judged on the performance of only mainstream students who have met competency levels in literacy…

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  2. There are numerous problems with the premise of lowering the bar for children with the multitude of designations that we have create – so-called accelerated or segregated language intensive models for ESL, the remedial or supplemental models for Special Education students; and yes, even the integrated team-teaching model that appears awkward and disjointed; but the one problem that stands out in front of all the rest and that may characterize most of these initiatives is that for a substantial portion of the kids, they simply don’t work! First, the teachers assigned to these categorical programs rarely have the subject-specific skills to teach age-appropriate content in a meaningful fashion. And with the cosmetic and cursory education these professionals receive in our college, along with a lack of vision from the centralites, who have been selling damaged goods for ages; the teachers and supervisors are also frequently ill-prepared to crank up the literacy and numeracy rates, yes, mainly because grade-level content (you know, the stuff that educators demand for their own kids) is discouraged and process is embraced in the vacuum of boredom and low expectations. In addition to the inadequate preparations teachers receive in college and in most of our schools in the name of IEP’s, educational planning and PD ( low content, no curriculum and obsessive sub-skill methodologies), a substantial number of children subjected to these ‘supportive’ and segregated programs somehow never quite make it out; thus the term coined by Dr. Ernesto Clemens, Remedial Lifers. And then there’s the highly questionable procedures by which we sentence children in the courts of determining eligibility for ESL and special education services. Moreover, from reading Peter’s piece, I surmise that the most current thinking is that by nixing high level courses that don’t ‘meet’ certain student needs, designated students can still ‘earn’ a regents diploma – I guess we can call that redistribution of rigor, at work. Back when, I was in favor of keeping the RCT’s for this very reason; but recognized that low demand is not necessarily the kindest of support and nurturing that children need. I have a suspicion that where Peter finds those golden nuggets of programs, such as in certain international schools and in others that have impressive results with special needs children, they treat the children to a challenging content rich-curriculum with strong teaching practices for all – they probably enrich rather than ditch! I also suspect that the industries that cater to special needs – text, technologies, the ever expanding bureaucracies, and after-school CBO richly funded programs; the professional dialogue that argues to convince that participation in high level courses don’t necessarily define a college or career-ready education; and the progressive and reform movements that refuse to acknowledge decades of disappointing results; many of which would probably be fine in not rocking the boat so as to allow the ship to sink more slowly.. My first Superintendent used to say that all kids need great instruction and therefore special needs students need even more of just that. Please make no mistake about it, I recognize that some children in these programs have had great successes against all odds. I do applaud the teachers of these students; they are among the hardest working and dedicated professionals in our ranks. But hard work and dedication will not, in the long run, overcome wrongheaded methods and philosophies that, by their very design, sell many of the kids and teachers short. I think it’s time to look at who is doing the selling and why we continue to do the buying. Can we find better ways? Well Ken above just made a suggestion that warrants some attention. And I imagine that the current practitioners themselves, not the researches with big-political-driven grants, could come up with many other approaches that are new, promising, logical, that unite rather than divide, and that just may more effectively and consistently work.


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