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Long IslandEducation

High school graduation rates show modest rise in U.S. and states

Freeport High School graduates throw their mortarboards into

Freeport High School graduates throw their mortarboards into the air during a June 23, 2013, graduation ceremony at the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex at Hofstra University in Hempstead. Photo Credit: Quinn O’Callaghan

High school graduation rates rose modestly from 2011 through 2015 both nationwide and in most states, including New York — a point underscored Monday by President Barack Obama as proof that his education policies have largely succeeded.

At the national level, the percentage of students graduating on time after four years of high school hit 83.2 percent during the 2014-15 academic year. That was an all-time high, according to federal statistics.

The latest graduation figure, released Monday, represented a 4.2 percentage-point gain over the 79 percent rate recorded in 2010-11.

Increases were reflected across racial and ethnic groupings, including improvements of 7.6 percentage points among black pupils, 6.8 percentage points among students of Latino ethnicities and 3.6 percentage points for white students.

Federal officials in 2010-11 began using an adjusted graduation statistic that for the first time allowed accurate comparisons among states.

New York, like many other states, showed improvement, although progress here was not as great as for the nation as a whole.

In 2014-15, the latest year available, New York’s four-year graduation rate was 79.2 percent. That was a 2.2 percentage-point improvement over the 2010-11 figure of 77 percent.

The state Education Department uses graduation rates among other statistics to measure school improvement. Over the past four years, improvements of 5 percentage points or more in graduation rates have been recorded in dozens of districts across Nassau and Suffolk counties, including Amityville, Central Islip, Freeport, Glen Cove, Lawrence and Longwood.

The president, during an appearance Monday at a packed high school gym in Washington, D.C., delivered a mostly upbeat accounting of his administration’s achievements in public education.

Also on hand was Arne Duncan, a former U.S. education secretary.

“Now, some of the changes we made were hard, and some of them were controversial,” Obama said. “We expected more from our teachers and our students. But the hard work that people have put in across the country has started to pay off.”

In addition to higher graduation rates, the president cited as examples of progress his administration’s efforts to expand public preschool programs, promote more rigorous Common Core academic standards and require extensions of high-speed internet service.

The administration has earned a mixed record on educational policy. On one hand, it provided billions of dollars in relief money to states after the 2008 economic crash — a move that saved the jobs of thousands of teachers and other local government employees.

On the other hand, much of the administration-driven financial assistance to states took the form of incentives to boost testing, along with teacher job evaluations based largely on scores from those tests. That generated widespread opposition among teachers and parents, many of whom protested that the new testing and teacher rating systems were being rushed into place without adequate preparation.

Public opposition has been particularly strong on Long Island. In the spring, more than half of all eligible students in grades three through eight in the region boycotted Common Core state tests.

Jeanette Deutermann of North Bellmore, organizer of the Long Island Opt Out movement, said in a phone interview Monday that improved graduation rates are not evidence of higher academic achievement.

Deutermann noted that state officials recently have taken steps to ease academic pressures on students — for example, by allowing local school officials to waive some diploma requirements for special education students.

“Really, what schools are doing is trying to compensate for mistakes made in the past by Arne Duncan and President Obama’s education policies,” Deutermann said.

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