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January 14, 2021
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JP O'Hare

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State Education Department Releases 2016 Cohort High School Graduation Rates

Graduation Rate Increases to 84.8%

Board of Regents & State Education Department Remain Focused on Providing Equity in Education for All Students

PowerPoint with Data Available

The State Education Department today released graduation rates for the 2016 cohort, those students who first entered 9th grade in New York’s public schools in 2016. The overall August graduation rate increased to 84.8 percent, up 1.4 percentage points from 83.4 percent for the 2015 cohort. The 2016 cohort graduation rate is 8 percentage points higher than it was a decade earlier, when the 2007 cohort graduation rate was 76.8 percent.

August Graduation Rates
2015 Cohort
2016 Cohort

% Point Change

2007 Cohort
2016 Cohort
% Point Change

“During the pandemic, we all have been forced to adjust how we go about our daily lives,” said Chancellor Lester W. Young, Jr. “When our schools were abruptly required to close last March, the Board took the necessary action to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all students while providing them with the opportunity to progress academically. We thank school communities for their tireless efforts to ensure continuity of learning for all students during this unprecedented time.” 

“Our educators, school staff and families have come together to support our students throughout this pandemic,” said Interim Commissioner Betty A. Rosa. “Virtually overnight, teaching was transformed from in-person to remote instruction. The shift to remote learning highlighted a digital divide across the state that must be addressed to give all students a level playing field and we remain focused on educational equity for all students.”

With the ongoing pandemic and related school closures, the Board of Regents and Department took several regulatory actions to ensure no student was negatively affected academically and students who were otherwise eligible to graduate in 2020 could do so. The Board allowed certain students to be exempt from the requirement to take a Regents Exam at the end of their course of study, provided that each student passed the course. These exemptions applied to students in all grades 7-12 and will have an impact on the graduation rates beginning with the 2016 cohort and on subsequent graduation cohorts.

2016 Cohort Graduation Rate Data for the Big 5 City School Districts

The Big 5 City School Districts saw varying rates of increase this year, with New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers all experiencing increases greater than the overall rate of growth statewide.

Big 5 City School District Cohort August Graduation Rates
  2015 2016 % Point Change

























2016 Cohort Graduation Rate Data by Need/Resource Group

Similar to the statewide average, graduation rates in nearly all Need/Resource Groups increased this year. Low and average-need districts continue to have the highest graduation rates at 95.3 percent and 90.4 percent, respectively. Large city, high need schools continue to have the lowest graduation rates, and a significant gap remains between the graduation rates of high- and low-need districts. The charter school graduation rate decreased 1.3 percentage points this year, to 79.5 percent.

Cohort Graduation Rate Data by Race/ Ethnicity

While steady progress is being made to narrow the achievement gaps between the graduation rates of Black and Hispanic/Latino students compared to their White peers, the achievement gaps between these groups of students remain significant. In the past five years (since the 2012 cohort), the graduation rate gap has narrowed by 5.5 percentage points for Black students and 4.5 percentage points for Hispanic/Latino students, when compared with the state’s White students. In the past 10 years (since the 2007 cohort), the gap has narrowed by over nine percentage points for Black and Hispanic/Latino students respectively when compared to their White peers. Statewide, Black and Hispanic/Latino students each improved their graduation rates by just over two percentage points this year, seeing the greatest growth of any race/ethnicity group.

American Indian/Alaskan Native students improved their graduation rate by 2.2 percentage points from last year to this year.

The graduation rate for Asian/Pacific Islander and White students remained relatively flat while the rate for multiracial students went up by seven tenths of a percentage point. This is the first year the percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander students’ graduation rate surpassed that of White students.

The Board of Regents and the Education Department will continue their efforts to close the graduation rate gap through implementation of the state’s ESSA plan, My Brother’s Keeper, the Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education initiative, addressing the digital divide and other efforts.

Cohort Graduation Rate Data by Race/ Ethnicity
  2014 Grad. Rate 2015 Grad. Rate 2016 Grad. Rate 2014 Gap to White Peers 2016 Gap to White Peers Change in Gap 2014 to 2016

American Indian/ Alaska Native







Asian/ Pacific Islander



































Gaps in the graduation rate remain for Big 5 City School Districts, as well. This year in Rochester and Syracuse, Black students outperformed their White peers by 7.7 and 1.6 percentage points respectively while Hispanic/Latino students outperformed their White peers by 4.6 and one percentage point, respectively. Buffalo has the highest achievement gap among Hispanic/Latino students when compared to their White peers at 15.7 percentage points, while New York City saw the largest achievement gap among Black students compared to their White peers at 7.9 percentage points.
August 2016 Big 5 Achievement Gap Compared to White Students
  American Indian/ Alaska Native Asian/ Pacific Islander Black Hispanic/Latino Multiracial

New York City






























*Data is suppressed due to small number of students.

Cohort Graduation Rate Data for English Language Learners

The graduation rate for English language learners (ELLs) improved overall this year. The graduation rate for Current ELLs (students who were identified as ELLs during the school year of their last enrollment) increased by 7.1 percentage points over last year. Ever ELLs (students identified as English language learners in any school year preceding the school year of their last enrollment) increased as well, by 0.2 percentage points over last year.

With a graduation rate of 90.0 percent, Ever ELLs surpassed the overall statewide graduation rate by more than five percentage points. While Current ELLs still lag far behind the statewide rate with a graduation rate of 46.0 percent, they saw a 7.1 percentage point increase over last year.

The State’s ESSA plan places a strong emphasis on improving the educational outcomes of ELLs.

Cohort August Graduation Rates for English Language Learners
  2015 2016 % Point Change

Ever ELLs




Current ELLs




2016 Cohort Graduation Rate Data for Students with Disabilities and by Gender

Statewide, the graduation rate for students with disabilities went up 1.6 percentage points over last year. Among these students, 43.6 percent earned a Regents diploma and 5.6 percent earned a Regents diploma with an Advanced Designation. In addition, 12.9 percent earned a local diploma. The increase in the amount of Regents diplomas earned and the corresponding decrease in local diplomas earned is a result of the necessary Regents exam exemptions. The dropout rate for these students decreased by nearly three percentage points this year.

2016 Cohort Graduation Rate Data by Gender

Female students continue to graduate at a significantly higher rate than their male peers, with 2016 cohort graduation rates at 88.6 percent for females and 81.3 percent for males. The graduation rate for females improved by 1.6 percentage points over last year and the graduation rate for males increased by 1.4 percentage points.

2016 Cohort Dropout Rate Data

The percentage of students who dropped out of school decreased by one percentage point this year. Notably, the dropout rate for ELLs continues to drop, from 29.7 percent in 2013 to 25.5 percent this year – but remains significantly higher than all other subgroups of students. Starting with the 2020-21 school year, districts entering NYSED Corrective Action Plans for their instruction of English Language Learners will put in place supports to increase the number of ELLs that graduate, and to track and decrease the number of ELLs who drop out of high school.

Cohort Dropout Rates
  2015 2016 % Point Change





Current ELLs




Students with Disabilities




Syracuse experienced the greatest decline in the dropout rate among ELLS of 3.1 percentage points and both New York City and Yonkers declined by 2.7 percentage points. In Buffalo, the rate went up 2.7 percentage points while Rochester remained relatively flat.

Four- and Five-Year Graduation Rate Data

As in previous years, the data shows that persistence pays off for students who do not graduate in four years. Some of the largest increases were seen for English Language Learners with one additional year of school. The 4-year graduation rate for English Language Learners in the 2015 Cohort was 38.9 percent, with the 5-year rate improving to 50.9 percent. That is an increase of 12 percentage points with added time in the classroom. In addition, Students with Disabilities also showed a significant increase in graduates with an extra year, up six percentage points. Students who are economically disadvantaged also graduate at a higher rate with more time, up 5.3 percentage points with one extra year.

Regulatory Actions That May Impact Graduation Rates for 2016 Cohort

To address the situation caused by the mandatory school closures, the Regents took several regulatory actions to ensure students who were otherwise eligible to graduate in 2020 could graduate. Generally, to earn a NYS high school diploma, a student must pass four Regents Examinations and choose a graduation pathway, which may include a fifth Regents Examination.

Because no school could hold in-person instruction in a safe manner, the June and August 2020 Regents Exams were cancelled, affecting every student in Grades 7-12 planning to take an exam during those administrations. The Regents’ actions exempted the Regents Exam requirement for students who:

  • Successfully completed courses leading to required Regents examinations.
    • Includes students who previously did not pass a Regents exam and were preparing to retake the exam in June or August 2020
  • Have a disability who may have been eligible for a Superintendent’s Determination of a local diploma but met criteria for exemptions. 
  • Sought appeals to graduate with a lower score on a Regents exam leading to a local diploma.

The Regents Exam exemptions were a factor in the increase in the 2016 Cohort graduation rate; however, the Department cannot say to what extent. In addition, the 2020 exemptions will affect 2017 and 2018 Cohort students as well. The Department continues to review the data to determine full effects of the Regents Exam exemptions. A district-by-district breakdown of exemptions needed to graduate is available on the NYSED website.

Multiple Pathways to Graduation

The Board of Regents is committed to providing multiple pathways for students to earn a regular high school diploma, and the Board approved regulations to establish multiple, comparably rigorous assessment pathways to graduation for all students. By offering these multiple pathways, the Board recognizes the importance of engaging students in rigorous and relevant academic programs. Specifically, Regents-approved regulations recognize students’ interests in the Arts; Languages Other Than English; Career and Technical Education; Humanities; and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) by allowing an approved pathway assessment to meet the students’ graduation requirements; more information about these Multiple Pathways is available on the Department’s website.

In addition, in 2016, the Board of Regents approved regulations to establish a new Career Development Occupational Studies (CDOS) graduation pathway for all students. The CDOS Commencement Credential certifies that a student has the standards-based knowledge and skills necessary for entry-level employment. Previously, only students with disabilities could exit school with a New York State CDOS Commencement Credential. These regulations expanded to all students the opportunity to earn the CDOS Commencement Credential.

This year, school districts reported that more than 11,173 students earned a diploma through one of the new pathways, a 15-percent decrease over last year. The most popular pathway was the STEM Science pathway with 39 percent, followed by the CTE pathway, the STEM Math and the CDOS pathway, each with approximately 15 percent. Ten percent of the new pathways graduates were reported with the Languages Other Than English pathway, while three percent were reported as earning the Arts pathways and two percent earning the Humanities Alternative. The changes in Regents Exam regulations this year caused the decrease in the number of students needing to use an alternative pathway to graduate.

Data Collection & Verification

The graduation data is reported by educational institutions to SED throughout the school year. The 2016 cohort graduation rate data was available for verification until the close of the state data warehouse in August 2019. District superintendents certified the data in September 2019. For more specific data points and for school- and district-level graduation data, visit the Department’s public data site. A PowerPoint presentation with additional data is also available.