Statewide graduation rates show upward trend; Buffalo’s rate increase

Feb 7, 2018

Graduation rates show an 'upward trend' statewide. The New York State Education Department released new numbers for those who graduated in 2017.

New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia held a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon.

Cap & gown.
Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley

Statewide 80.2-percent of the students graduated in 2017, but if you include those who graduated last August, the rate increases to a little more than 82-percent.

“This year the news is generally positive. We’re continuing the upward trend in the overall graduation rate by retaining the growth from last year and seeing a slight growth from last year,” Elia remarked.

Inside a Buffalo school classroom.
Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley

The Buffalo Public School District experienced a slight increase in its graduation numbers. The city's graduation rate rose to 62.7-percent in June of 2017, however, it jumps even higher to 64-percent when you add in those who graduated in August of 2017.

“We are seeing growth in many of our big five districts,” Commissioner Elia stated.

However, Elia noted a large achievement gap remains when you look at race and ethnicity. She said it is close to 20-percentage points.   

“While we do see some growth in the black and Hispanic student graduation rates, it’s important to note that significantly more white students graduated with Regent’s diplomas and Regent’s diplomas with advance designation than black and Hispanic students – a difference of nearly 20-percent for black students and more than 20-percent for Hispanic students,” Ellia explained. “We are making incremental progress, but clearly more work needs to done to eliminate these gaps.”      

Buffalo school students.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Elia said ‘high need’, large city school districts increased the most, by 2.3-percentage points.

The commissioner also reviewed dropout rates for English Language Learners. In Buffalo there was an increased dropout rate for ELL students of 4.8-percentage points.  

“We need to take a closer look to retain “L” students to stay in school and graduate,” Elia commented.

Buffalo did experience a decrease in the dropout rate for students with disabilities by 2.5-percentage points.

The Buffalo Public School District issued the following statement in response to the rise in the city's rate:

Buffalo Public School students in classroom.
Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley

"The District’s 2017 growth in graduation rate, while incremental, shows that students are pursuing and earning more rigorous diplomas. Regents Diplomas are up by 4%, and 16% of the 2,452-student cohort is still enrolled. The district will continue to offer more advanced coursework, innovative high schools, and alternate pathways to graduation. 

The District held onto last year’s gains, slowly improving on them through the New Education Bargain (NEB).  As students engage in our New Innovative High Schools move through the grade levels, we expect to see another rise in graduation rate.  We are in the foundational stage of District excellence - the groundwork has been laid. 

The NEB works toward improving academic outcomes and graduation rates from both ends of the educational continuum.  Through Rigorous Elementary Education, we have smaller classrooms with increased staff and literacy coaches to advance early learning. Additionally, Extended Learning Time Programs, Summer School options, and Community School Saturday Academies - through a strong partnership with Say Yes Buffalo – all serve to build a culture of success and increase learning for a child from pre-school into high school.

High school students are also seeing unprecedented District support through Virtual Academies, the promise of a college scholarship through our Say Yes partnership, and via our eight New Innovative High Schools.  Our vast Career and Technical Education pathways are geared to local industry, and our international high school at Lafayette will continue to transition students who have had interrupted formal education, or who are entering school for the first time. 

The District will continue to execute the NEB. We will continue to work strategically with parents, teachers, mentors, pastors, our consortium of higher education leaders, and business partners, to engage students and promote higher aspirations. Meanwhile, the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) recently adopted by the State Education Department will allow us to account for student success on a more granular level. We will now be able to count previously excluded data on students with commencement credentials and high school equivalency diplomas, along with Advanced Regents diplomas, students who take more than four years to complete, etc.  All of the above will serve to make ever-higher graduation rates a foreseeable goal."

The Alliance for Quality Education also issued a statement saying even with the rates rising, "disparities persist".  The organization said "closing the opportunity gap requires real investment in education equity."

"In his eight years in office, Governor Cuomo has done nothing to address the growing opportunity gap that leads to outcome disparities,” said Jasmine Gripper, legislative director, Alliance for Quality Education. “Despite what the Governor believes, money does matter when it comes to educational outcomes; studies show that a 10 percent sustained increase in school funding leads to an 11 percent increase in graduation rates. In order to achieve real progress in student outcomes including graduation rates in high need districts, many of which serve Black, Brown and low-income communities, the Governor and State Legislature need to commit to fully funding equity in this year's budget with a commitment to fully phase in the Foundation Aid formula."

The following statement was also issued in response the release of 2017 graduation data:

“While we are encouraged that graduation rates continue to improve incrementally, this year’s results point to the need to accelerate progress for low-income students and students of color while maintaining high expectations for all students. We are concerned that much of the statewide gain appears to be driven by an increase in local diplomas rather than Regents diplomas, and by the declining 4-year graduation rates and increasing dropout rates for English language learners. These represent critical equity issues as state education leaders continue to explore changes in graduation pathways and focus on strategies to ensure quality instruction to help every student graduate ready for college and careers," Ian Rosenblum, Executive Director of The Education Trust–New York.