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City high school graduation rates continued to climb last year, hiking 1.5 percent to 78.3 percent — but critics cited shifting standards in questioning the surge.
The New York State Education Department has made more than a dozen changes to graduation requirements in recent years.
In addition, NYSED last year canceled state Regents exams that are normally required to graduate due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As a result, the state mandated that students only had to pass classes associated with the tests in order to earn a diploma.
“Regents Exam exemptions were a factor in the increase in the 2016 Cohort graduation rate over last year; however, we cannot say to what extent,” NYSED said in a statement.
David Bloomfield, a Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center education professor, said he was surprised that the rate change was nearly identical to the prior year given coronavirus upheaval.
“The surprise here is that there was no surprise,” he said. “It’s almost like the coronavirus never happened. It’s very hard to figure out this stability except to assume that student hardships were accommodated by their school systems.”
Bloomfield also said the lack of a Regents exam should be taken into account when assessing last year’s figures.
“Comparisons are really impossible with the absence of the Regents,” he said. “So the public should remember that this is based on credits and not post-secondary readiness.”
City graduation rates have risen steadily since 2005 when less than half of all students received diplomas.
While public officials cast this ascent as evidence of effective leadership, ever-shifting standards tempers praise from some critics.
An increasing number of students are using new pathways to hurdle high school.
These include swapping out one of the five Regents exams for an alternative test and making use of wider latitude in appealing failing scores.
In a 2017 policy shift, state education officials also allowed kids with disabilities to graduate without having to pass the Regents.
But city education officials have pointed to other improving metrics — including college enrollment and preparedness — as proof of systemwide progress.
As has become custom, Asian city kids handily outpaced their peers in terms of graduation rates.
They earned diplomas at a clip of 89.5 percent in 2020, compared to 83.8 percent for whites, 75.9 percent for African-Americans, and 74.1 percent for Hispanics.
Statewide, graduation rates went up from 83.4 to 84.8 percent last year.
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