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January 11, 2016
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JP O'Hare

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Education Department Releases 2015 High School Graduation Rates

Rate Continues to Rise with Notable Gains in Urban Districts

Department Also Proposes Expansion of Graduation Pathways to Provide Students with More Opportunities to Earn a Diploma

The New York State Education Department today released high school graduation rates for the 2011 cohort (students who entered 9th grade in 2011). The overall graduation rate for the 2011 cohort increased to 78.1 percent, up 1.7 percentage points from 76.4 percent for the 2010 cohort. The data were presented during the Board of Regents meeting on Monday.

However, 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. In an effort to provide more pathways to graduation for New York’s diverse student population, the Department proposed to the Board new options that would provide students with additional opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in order to earn a diploma. These proposals include widening the score range for any students who wish to appeal their Regents Exam result; establishing a graduation pathway in Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS); and the creation of a project-based assessment for students who pass coursework required for a diploma but who have not passed required Regents Exams. These new options are intended to give all students—especially those with disabilities, English language learners (ELL), and students at risk of dropping out—additional ways of earning a diploma while continuing to measure them against the State’s rigorous standards.

Only about 50 percent of students with disabilities in the 2011 cohort graduated within four years. Graduation rates for Black and Hispanic students continue to lag behind those of their White peers. In the 2011 cohort, about 88 percent of White students graduated in June 2015, but only 65 percent of Black and Hispanic students did.

“For many students, a high school diploma can unlock opportunities that once seemed far out of reach,” State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said. “Students should have more ways to earn a diploma and realize those opportunities—especially children from communities where those opportunities too often remain dreams instead of becoming reality. The good news is that more students, particularly those in urban districts, are graduating from high school. But we know the graduation rate could be even higher if students were given the option to meet our standards in a different way. This is not about changing our standard. It’s about providing other avenues for kids to show what they know so they can graduate.”

2011 Cohort Graduation Rate

Graduation rates for the Big 5, high need urban-suburban and rural districts have risen over the past three years. While the performance gap between high need and low need districts did close slightly between the 2011 and 2010 cohorts, 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. Overall, fewer students are graduating with local diplomas and more students are earning Regents Diplomas. The statewide percentage of students earning a Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation has remained stable year-to-year at around 32 percent.

The five year graduation rate for the 2010 cohort and the six year graduation rate for the 2009 cohort are 82 percent and 83 percent respectively. While the four year graduation rate for Black and Hispanic students is 65 percent, the five and six year graduation rates are higher. For Black students, the five year rate is 72 percent (2010 cohort) and the six year is 73 percent (2009 cohort). The five and six year graduation rates for Hispanic students are 71 percent (2010 cohort) and 73 percent (2009 cohort) respectively. 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.

For more specific data points and district-level graduation data, visit the Department’s public data site at

Expansion of Graduation Options

Regents Appeals Process

The Department proposes to widen the score range for students who wish to appeal their Regents Exam result. This proposal is aimed at helping students who have traditionally struggled to earn a diploma and graduate.

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) and they:

  • Have taken the Regents Exam under appeal at least twice;
  • Present evidence that they have utilized academic help provided by their school in the subject tested by the Regents Exam under appeal;
  • Have an attendance rate of 95 percent;
  • Pass the course for which the appeal is being sought; and
  • Must be recommended for the appeal by their teacher or Department chairperson in the subject of the Regents Exam under appeal.

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. As with the current regulation, students who are granted one appeal by their district would earn a Regents diploma. Students granted two would earn a local diploma.

According to an initial analysis, approximately 4,800 students from the 2010 cohort would have met the testing requirements had the expanded appeal been an option. This option would have had a great impact on some of the State’s most vulnerable students. Of the 4,800 who would have earned a diploma with the expanded appeal, more than 3,400 would come from economically disadvantaged homes; 1,700 would be Hispanic; 1,500 would be Black; and nearly 1,000 would be ELLs.

Career Development and Occupational Studies Pathway

Additionally, the 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 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.

The Department suggests creation of a CDOS pathway to graduation for all students. The Board has previously approved five other pathways for students: Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM), Mathematics, Arts, Bi-Literacy (LOTE), and Career and Technical Education (CTE). These multiple pathways are known as “4+1,” meaning students must pass four required Regents Exams (one in Math, English, Science, and Social Studies) and an equally rigorous alternative assessment in their selected discipline instead of a fifth Regents Exam. If CDOS is approved, it would become the sixth 4+1 pathway. Students pursuing this pathway would be required to pass the four Regents Exams, as with the other pathways, and successfully complete the requirements for the CDOS credential. Students who graduate through this proposed pathway would have demonstrated their grasp of the Common Core Learning Standards and their readiness for the workplace.

Project-Based Assessments

The Department also recommends the adoption of a new graduation option for students who have successfully completed all the coursework necessary to earn a Regents Diploma but who have not passed the requisite Regents Exams. This option would allow such students to complete a project-based assessment instead of having to pass the Regents Exam, as long as they have taken and passed the course and met the attendance requirements for the school district.

Project-based assessments would give students who struggle with standardized tests another way to show their competency in a subject. The assessments will consist of a set of rigorous activities that a student must complete independently of classroom instruction in order to demonstrate proficiency in a content area to meet State graduation requirements. These assessments will be developed by teachers and will be designed to be as challenging as Regents Exams. They would be scored by trained evaluators based on a scoring rubric created by educators and established by the State.

Next Steps

The Department will draft proposed recommendations for the Board to consider in regard to the CDOS pathway and the expanded appeals option. Additionally, the Department will create a work plan and timetable for the implantation of a project-based assessment program and explore the resources needed to create such a program.