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HS graduation rates dip on Long Island

Students during an AP English Junior class at

Students during an AP English Junior class at Valley Stream Central High School. (June 11, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

High-school graduation rates on Long Island dipped slightly in the state's latest counts, even as statewide rates inched upward.

Across Nassau and Suffolk counties, 87 percent of students graduated on time in June 2011, according to data released Monday by the state Education Department. The regional figure was down slightly from the 87.6 percent reported for the Island's graduates in June 2010.

Meanwhile, the statewide graduation rates rose slightly to 74 percent in June 2011, up from 73.4 percent the previous year. Both Long Island and the state saw slight declines in percentages of graduates deemed fully prepared for college.

Regional school officials shrugged off the latest results, saying the one-year declines were too small to be significant. But there was shock in the Hempstead school district, where the graduation rate plunged to 28 percent in 2011, compared with 46 percent in 2010, according to the state.

"That's unacceptable," said Charles Renfroe, Hempstead's school board president, who added that he was surprised by the latest results and would take them up with district administrators at a meeting Monday night that was scheduled before the state released its figures. "Hope it's a misprint."


Some local improvements

Elsewhere, some local districts saw improvements in percentages of graduates awarded Regents Diplomas with Advanced Designations. Those are regarded by state officials as evidence of college readiness because they require advanced coursework -- such as trigonometry.

"It's a very positive trend line," said Bill Heidenreich, superintendent of the Valley Stream Central High School District, which saw gains.

Percentages of students earning advanced diplomas also jumped in Westhampton Beach, one of a growing number of districts that provides an extra period of math every other day for teens needing help with trigonometry. Christopher Herr, the high school principal, said guidance counselors frequently meet with students and parents to explain the advantages of having advanced math credits on transcripts that are submitted to colleges.

"Students are pushing themselves across the board," Herr said.

Generally, however, percentages of students obtaining advanced diplomas declined both regionally and statewide. On the Island, 49.4 percent of students obtained advanced diplomas in 2011, compared with 50.1 percent the previous year. Statewide, the figure dipped to 30.6 percent to 30.9 percent.

In an apparent reference to recent criticism from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the department noted that a new report published by Education Week magazine ranked New York tied at 10th among states in terms of graduation rates. Those rates were calculated by a research agency associated with the weekly publication.

Cuomo, in contrast, has cited federal statistics ranking New York as 39th in graduation rates as evidence that school reform is needed. The two sets of figures are calculated in different ways and are not directly comparable.

The governor's office had no comment Monday.

Monday's release by the Education Department said that results for the graduating classes of 2011 and 2010 were not exactly comparable either, because the state had been phasing in a new Integrated Algebra exam covering a year's coursework in math, while phasing out a Math "A" exam covering a year-and-a-half. Educators generally consider the Integrated Algebra exam to be easier than the Math "A" exam.


Reasons unclear

Department spokesman Tom Dunn, when asked why the switch to an exam considered easier would be accompanied by a decline in results, said he could not go beyond the explanation provided in the agency's original release.

A growing number of the Island's educators have concluded that the state should report results not only on Regents exams and other state tests, but also on Advanced Placement tests and International Baccalaureate exams that are used increasingly in local high schools.

The AP and IB tests, produced by nonprofit agencies, are of college-level difficulty, and results on those exams are reported in some other states, such as Florida and Illinois.

Lorna Lewis, the East Williston schools chief, called for reporting of AP and IB results in testimony Monday at a State Senate hearing, saying that would be better than producing new tests planned by the state as a way to evaluate teachers.

"It's just universally accepted that, for students taking the AP and IB courses, they're just more college-ready," said Lewis. She is co-chairwoman of a curriculum committee for the State Council of School Superintendents.

With Ted Phillips

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