How Can the State Education Department Increase High School Graduation Rates? (Hint: Listen to and Support Teachers and School Leaders)

The single metric that gets commissioners/superintendents/governors/mayor hired and fired are high school graduation rates. We used to say the grades 3-8 test scores; however, the opt out movement has cast so much doubt on the test scores that the single metric is graduation rates.

The most recent release of graduation rates show incremental progress.

The overall graduation rate for the 2011 cohort increased to 78.1 percent, up 1.7 percentage points.

A cohort is defined as all students entering a school in the 9th grade – students remain in the cohort unless they transfer to another school – the 2011 cohort graduated in 2015. Unfortunately students drop out of school before they graduate degrading the graduation rate

… nearly seven percent of students in the 2011 cohort—about 14,590 students—dropped out of high school. Of those who dropped out, 62 percent were Black or Hispanic; 64 percent came from economically disadvantaged homes; and 58 percent were male.

No surprise.

The state does not appear to have conducted any exit interviews – why are students failing to graduate?  Are they going to work?  Child care?  Or, moving elsewhere and the school fails to identify whether the student registered in a new school. Do Students with Disabilities (SWD) drop out of school due to frustration over the inability to pass courses and regent examinations? We simply don’t know.

The disparity between high needs and low needs, Edu speak for income inequality is staggering.

… only 68.4 percent of students from high need urban-suburban districts graduated on time in 2015, compared to more than 94 percent of students from low need districts.

The link of graduation rate to poverty-income inequality is overwhelming.

The five and six year cohort graduation rates increase the percentages by four and five percent and for ELLS much higher.

For ELLS, the five and six year graduation rates are significantly higher than the four year rate of 34 percent (cohort 2011). The five year graduation rate for ELLs is 44 percent (2010 cohort) and 50 percent (2009 cohort) respectively.

You can take a deep dive into data by school district or schools here:

The commissioner jumped to recommendations, changes in graduation requirements, in my view, without an adequate examination of the data, and, are troubling.

How many students, disaggregated by school and school district, pass all courses; however, fail to graduate because they cannot pass the five regents exams, and, which exams offer the greatest obstacle?

A crucial question and I don’t think we know.

The commissioner has made a number of suggestions to increase graduations rates.

Appeal/Re-Scoring of Failing Regents Exams

Under the current regulation, students may appeal a failing score on a Regents Exam if their score is within three points of passing (62-64) … [In certain limited circumstances]

The proposal would widen the range of scores by two points to include scores of 60 to 64, permitting students to appeal scores within five points of passing on up to two Regents Exams

Are we saying we want to assure that regents scores are accurate so we will are allowing students to appeal and re-score the exams?  From a statistical perspective among the mis-scored exams half will gain points and half will lose points – should we also re-score papers from 65-70 and reduce exams grades for paper that we mis-score and received too many points?

Maybe we should just drop the passing grade to 60 for all exams? Would raise graduation rates…

Substituting the CDOS Credential for One Regent Examination

 Department is proposing a new graduation pathway in Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS). Currently, only students with disabilities have the option to graduate with a CDOS commencement credential, which indicates that the graduate has the skills and preparation necessary for entry-level employment.

The credential was designed for students with disabilities that prevent them from earning a local diploma; students whose handicap is so severe that regents exams are inappropriate.

The requirements to earn the credential are rigorous: the student must successfully complete 216 hours of additional coursework and take part in work-based learning, demonstrate competency of the CDOS learning standards at the commencement level, and have an employability profile showing readiness for entry-level employment.

216 hours equal four additional courses.

The Department suggests creation of a CDOS pathway to graduation for all students.

These recommendations are not improving teaching and learning, they’re not doing anything inside a classroom. We are simply changing regulations to make it easier to graduate.

Why not simply change the rules and reduce the number of regents required to pass from five to four?  Perhaps require English and mathematics and any two others. Wouldn’t help students; however, would increase graduation rates.

We also know that the community college graduation rates among the poorest students is agonizingly low,

The most recent national data indicate that 13 percent of students in the lowest income quartile who started at a two-year college in 2003–04 completed an associate degree by spring 2009. An additional 9.4 percent earned a certificate, and 8.3 percent earned a bachelor’s degree.

Among students in the second lowest income quartile who started at a two-year college in 2003–04, 15.8 percent completed an associate degree by spring 2009. An additional 10.5 percent earned a certificate, and 10.8 percent earned a bachelor’s degree.

The kids who will benefit from the recommendations of the commissioner will join the staggering numbers of kids who both fail to graduate from community college and build up a ton of college debt.

What should we do?

While I disagree with Eric Nadelstern on most issues I totally agree with him on a core tenet,

Devolve responsibility, resources and authority to schools. Centralizing decision making simply lets principals and teachers off the hook for student performance.

The Internationals Network only accepts high school students with 4 years or less in the nation. The schools are public schools (fifteen in New York City) that are supported by the Internationals Network for Public Schools, a not-for-profit that has created and supported the schools. The data is startling:

4-Year NYC Graduation Rates

Public High Schools – 37%

Internationals – 65%

Six-Year Graduation Rates

Public High Schools – 50%

Internationals – 74%

Why hasn’t the State Ed Department encouraged the Internationals Network to expand into other areas in the state? What are the Internationals doing different? (Check out here:

About twenty-five years ago, Howard Friedman, a teacher at City-As-School High School started Manhattan Comprehensive Day and Night High School, “…a “one-of-a-kind public high school for non-traditional students ages seventeen to twenty-one. Students can attend either night or day classes while working full-time and attending to adult responsibilities.”  MCDNHS works with the Comprehensive Development, Inc, CDI, a not-for-profit that provides a wide range of services to students and two years beyond graduation – call it a community high school plus.

School leaders and teachers, supported by school district leaders, make the best educational decisions. State Education Departments and School Superintendents too often see themselves at the top of a paramilitary organization; while the troops may salute too little actual changes.

Commissioners and superintendents have to create fertile soil and water regularly. The sun and really dedicated and smart, people, those “in the trenches” really do have the “answers.”

2 responses to “How Can the State Education Department Increase High School Graduation Rates? (Hint: Listen to and Support Teachers and School Leaders)

  1. Ann Marie Fitzpatrick

    I think you might have mistaken the CDOS for the SACC (skills and achievement credential). The SACC was created for the lowest one percent. The CDOS was for those students with disabilities who couldnt get a local/regents diploma (replaces IEP diploma).


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