A class of 11th grade regent chemistry students at Island...

A class of 11th grade regent chemistry students at Island Trees High School in Levittown, May 9, 2014. Credit: Uli Seit

More than 88 percent of seniors in Long Island's Class of 2013 graduated on time after four years of high school -- an increase over the year before and the second straight year of improvement for the region, new state figures show.

Performance on the Island was a hallmark of a year when high school graduation rates increased statewide, as did the number of seniors earning marks high enough on Regents exams in English and math to be considered college-ready, the state Education Department reported Monday.

The statewide diploma numbers are believed to be the highest in New York history, Education Department chief spokesman Dennis Tompkins said, although records going back to the 1940s are not all available.

On the Island, the percentage of students in the Class of 2013 who graduated on time after four years of high school rose to 88.3 percent, up from 87.6 percent in 2012.

Statewide, graduation rates improved to 74.9 percent in 2013, up from 74 percent the prior year. Latest figures are for the 2009 cohort -- that is, students who entered high school in September 2009.

Members of the state Board of Regents, who reviewed the graduation figures at their monthly meeting in Albany, said more must be done to ensure that high school students complete advanced courses to succeed in college, including geometry and trigonometry.

"Even though these graduation rates might be going up slightly, we still have a large number of kids who aren't ready for college," said Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents Long Island on the Regents board.

Wide gaps continue to exist between white students and those who are black and Hispanic, state officials said, in terms of demonstrating through test scores that they are well-prepared for college. Education leaders also voiced concern about a relatively high number of teens with limited English who failed to earn diplomas because they could not pass a required Regents English exam.

"One in four students still aren't graduating after four years," Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said.

Regents are considering a plan to waive the Regents English exam as a diploma requirement for students with limited English who have attended schools in this country for two years or less. Such students still would have to pass exams in other subjects written in their own languages.

The state offers Regents exams in most academic subjects in eight languages, including Spanish, Haitian French and Mandarin.

The waiver plan would not go forward, state education officials said, unless the U.S. Education Department approves it and the New York State Legislature provides money to develop new English proficiency tests for such students.

One way the state measures students' readiness for college is by checking whether they scored at least 80 on a required Regents exam in algebra and at least 75 on a required Regents exam in English.

Islandwide, the number of graduates achieving those marks was 52.2 percent in 2013 -- up from 50.1 percent in 2012. The statewide figure improved to 37.2 percent, from 35.3 percent.

Districts recording substantial gains in 2013 included Mount Sinai, where 66.4 percent of graduates achieved the "aspirational" marks in English and math, and East Islip, where 54.3 percent of graduates did so.

"We're delighted," said Mount Sinai's school chief, Enrico Crocetti, who said his district had moved over the past two years to boost achievement through a variety of measures, including more college-level Advanced Placement courses.

Linda Rozzi, the East Islip superintendent, said improvement measures there had included a push to get more students who needed course credits to attend regional summer schools.

"We're on a positive track," Rozzi said.The improvements in graduation rates were recorded in most regions of the state -- urban, suburban and rural -- and in charter high schools as well as traditional schools. Charter schools operate independently of traditional school districts and draw taxpayer revenues based on the number of students who choose to enroll there.

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