New York graduation rate up after pandemic cancels exams

February 16, 2022 GMT

New York’s high school graduation rate rose slightly last year after the pandemic forced the cancellation of exams normally required for a diploma, education officials said Wednesday.

State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa said it was difficult to know how much of an impact canceling the stringent Regents exams had on the Class of 2021.

Students typically have to pass at least four of the exit exams — in English, math, science and social studies — to graduate. But amid COVID-19 disruptions, the state said, it was enough that students passed the courses.

“This change affected this year’s graduation rates, but we cannot say to what extent,” Rosa said during a call with reporters, adding that the 1.3 percentage point increase was in line with an upward trend in graduation rates tracked over the past several years.

Without the end-of-year exams, students were assessed on locally developed tests, coursework and projects, officials said.

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The August graduation rate for students who entered high school in 2017 was 86.1%, compared with 84.8% a year earlier. Data showed increases across Black, Latino, American Indian, and Asian American and Pacific Islander subgroups. The graduation rate for white students remained flat at just over 90%.

A notable exception to the generally moderate changes among groups of students was a 14.5 percentage point increase in the graduation rate for English language learners, a jump to 60.5% that Rosa said was due in part to improved services for those students over the past several years.

High-needs rural districts saw their graduation rate dip to 85%, a decline of 1 percentage point that Senior Deputy Commissioner Jim Baldwin attributed to a sparsity of broadband access that hampered some students during periods of remote learning, a longstanding issue the state has been seeking to change.

“Many schools had to resort to delivering packets to student and that is far from an ideal situation,” Baldwin said.

All of the Big 5 urban school districts recorded higher graduation rates than last year. The rate in New York city was 81.2%. Buffalo reported a 78.5% rate, Rochester 71.4%, Syracuse 77.2% and Yonkers 90.7%.

Regents exams are scheduled to resume this school year. Rosa said the earlier cancellations are expected to affect future classes of graduates because students begin taking them as early as seventh grade and will remain exempt from taking the tests for classes they have already passed.