Most area high schools exceed state goal of 80 percent of students graduating

Statewide high school graduation rates are up, meeting the federal goal of 80 percent, but Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said Wednesday more needs to be done to address gaps in achievement rates.

Overall, the graduation rate for 2017 increased to 80.2 percent, up from 79.7 percent in 2016. When students who graduated in August are included, the rate increased to 82.1 percent, according to figures released by the department Wednesday morning.

The rates are measured in what is called a cohort, referring to students who entered ninth-grade in a particular year, taking into account not all will graduate within four years. There are separate figures for those who graduate in August of their fourth year or in June of their fifth or sixth year.

The 2017 graduation rate, measured by the 2013 cohort, are also up more than 11 percentage points from a decade ago when the 2003 cohort graduation rate was 68.8 percent.

Elia, who addressed the media though a joint conference call, said the state graduate rate is on track to meet its first federal Every Student Succeeds Act plan’s long-term goal of 83.9 percent in 2021-22, but noted significant achievement gaps exists, particularly for black and Hispanic students, students with disabilities and in four of the Big 5 city school districts of New York, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers.

“While it’s welcome news that our graduation rate is moving in a positive direction, unacceptable gaps in achievement persist,” she said. “For this reason, the push for educational equity remains the driving force behind our decision making and policies.”

Among the Big 5, Syracuse was the only one with a decline, dropping half a percentage point from a 2016 graduation rate of 61 percent to 60.5 percent for 2017. None but Yonkers meets the goal of 80 percent with New York City graduating 71.1 percent of its 2013 cohort; Buffalo, 62.7 percent; Rochester, 51.9 percent (but it gained 4.2 percentage points from 2016 when its rate was 47.7); and Yonkers, 82.8 percent.

Statewide, according to the data, graduation rates lag in many subgroups with 69.3 percent of black students and 68.4 percent of Hispanic students graduating in 2017, compared to 89 percent of white students, although the gap declined slightly by 3.8 percent between blacks and whites and 2.9 percent between Hispanics and whites.

In Ontario County, with a 2013 cohort of 1,264 students, 89 percent — or 1,126 students — graduated in 2017, including 47 percent — or 596 students — with an advanced Regents diploma. That's compared to 88 percent — or 1,171 students — from a 2012 cohort of 1,332, who graduated in 2016, including 50 percent — or 665 students — with an advanced Regents diploma.

Naples and Midlakes high schools tied for the highest in the county with a 95 percent graduation rate, compared to 91 and 87 percent, respectively, in 2016.

“Although our small cohort sizes (54 for 2012 and 59 for 2013) can lead to changes from year to year, it was rewarding to see our graduation rate at 95 percent,” said Naples Superintendent Matt Frahm. “We know that a high school diploma is the key to opening doors after high school, and the data validates all the hard work from our students, faculty and staff.”

Midlakes Superintendent Matt Sickles, who joined the Phelps-Clifton Springs Central School District Sept. 1, said his district is very happy with the data.

“We’re proud of our kids,” he said. “We also know it’s the result of a lot of hard work from our teachers, counselors and support staff who work with our kids every day to overcome a variety of challenges. Every kid has a unique story, and it’s about our staff working with them individually to achieve their own potential.”

Canandaigua City School District Superintendent Jamie Farr said his district is pleased to see steady growth in all indicators.

“Our graduation rates continue to rise, but students are more than a percentage or a number,” he said. “Each student has unique needs, strengths and interests.”

Farr said Canandaigua takes an individualized approach to learning so students may achieve success.

The district's graduation rate for 2017, from a 2013 cohort of 298 students, is 92 percent, up from 90 percent in 2016 with a 2012 cohort of 298 students.

“Our goal is 100 percent graduation and although we are getting close to that number, until we achieve it, we will continue to make that our aim and strategically make adjustments with a target to improve our performance,” Farr said.

Other countywide statistics show 13 students received non-diploma credentials, an option that includes career development and occupational studies, and skills and achievement credentials. Also included were 67 students still enrolled, 52 who dropped out and five who had transferred to an approved alternative high school equivalency program.

The 2017 graduation rates were 90 percent for females and 88 percent for males.

The gaps Elia referred to in various subgroups also exist in Ontario County with 60 percent of 131 students with disabilities graduating in 2017; 40 percent of 10 English Language Learners, students who need support to become proficient in English; and 79 percent of 432 economically disadvantaged students.

By ethnicity, 91 percent of 1,104 white students countywide graduated in 2017; 69 percent of 29 multiracial students; 79 percent of 40 black or African-American students; and 69 percent of 74 Hispanic or Latino students.

No students were listed under American Indian or Alaska native, Asian, and Hawaiian or other Pacific islander.

The graduation data is reported to SED by educational institutions throughout the year and certified by district superintendents in September.

Andy Pallotta, president of New York State United Teachers, said a nearly 12 point increase in the state graduation rate over the last decade and a narrowing achievement gap reflect the incredible dedication and professionalism of teachers and staff.

He attributed rising rates to “robust” state aid increases over the last few years, saying a sustained investment is needed to continue progress.

“Rising graduation rates show the positive effects of strong state aid increases that are coupled with tremendous work by educators and staff,” Pallotta said. “In order to maintain this momentum, the state must fully meet the needs of school districts in this year's budget.”