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More LI graduates earn advanced Regents diplomas, says state education department

Malverne High School students, on Tuesday April 29,

Malverne High School students, on Tuesday April 29, 2014, take a practice NYS Regent Integrated Algebra test at Malverne High School. Credit: Howard Schnapp

More Long Island high school graduates earned advanced diplomas that require passing tougher math and science courses -- an increase some educators heralded as progress in efforts to make students "college and career ready."

The state Department of Education reported Tuesday that 53.6 percent of the Island's graduating seniors in the class of 2013 received Regents Diplomas with Advanced Designation, up from 47.7 percent of graduates the prior year.

Statewide, numbers of advanced diploma recipients rose to 37.4 percent in 2013, compared with 29.9 percent the previous year.

To receive an advanced diploma, students must pass state Regents exams in geometry and trigonometry, as well as an algebra exam that is mandatory for all students except those with disabilities. They also must pass a second Regents science exam and, in many cases, a foreign language exam administered at the local level.

Academic gains for the class of 2013, while modest, marked a turnaround from trends of the past several years. Percentages of seniors earning advanced Regents diplomas declined in 2013 and 2012, both on the Island and statewide.

Locally, some school administrators described the latest gains as a source of pride and satisfaction.

"If you want these kids to achieve at a high level, they won't let you down," said Vincent Romano, principal of Malverne High School.

The share of 2013 graduates in that district earning advanced diplomas rose to 47.1 percent, from 31 percent the prior year. Malverne provides both after-school and weekend tutoring for struggling students, about 40 percent of whom come from families with incomes low enough to qualify for subsidized lunches.

Other Island education leaders were more guarded in their responses. Some noted that schools in Nassau and Suffolk counties face an uncertain future as they try to boost achievement while also coping with state cap limitations on local property taxes.

"I'm glad they are up -- obviously, that's helpful," Roger Tilles of Great Neck, a member of the state Board of Regents, said of the latest diploma figures. "The question is, will they continue to go up?"

State education officials did not issue any statements about the latest results, following a practice established several years ago. Those authorities place greater emphasis on high school graduation rates and percentages of students earning "college ready" marks on specific Regents exams. Those sets of data probably will be released in June.

The latest graduation statistics are included in state "report cards" posted Tuesday on the Education Department's website, Those reports, which this year have been organized in a new format, incorporate voluminous statistics on enrollments, test scores, teacher credentials and other facts for both districts and individual schools statewide.

Academic report cards, by law, must be made available to residents of every school district along with information regarding budgets and taxes, before those districts hold their annual votes. This year's vote is May 20.

The latest advanced diploma figures again underscored the achievement gap between the Island's richest and poorest districts.

High-achieving districts, such as Garden City, Great Neck, Jericho, Roslyn and Syosset, all reported that more than 80 percent of last June's graduates earned such credentials.

Hempstead, in contrast, reported 12.9 percent of graduates earned advanced diplomas. Central Islip had 11.7 percent; Wyandanch had 5.5 percent; and Roosevelt, 3 percent.

Even there, some gains were recorded. Hempstead's latest figure was more than double the 6.3 percent reported for the previous year.

"I'm so grateful," said Betty Cross, president of Hempstead's school board. "We're working so hard in Hempstead to up our academics."

Cross cited the district's robotics program, as well as after-hours tutoring, as examples of improvement efforts.

Elsewhere, many local school officials have criticized the state's use of Regents exams and diplomas as measures of achievement, saying that college-level Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests are better gauges.

Some local leaders acknowledged, however, that Regents exams and diplomas still serve a purpose in motivating students.

Lorna Lewis, superintendent of Plainview-Old Bethpage schools, said her district, like many, is placing more students in Regents-level courses in eighth grade in order to better advance them later.

"If they're not in algebra by eighth grade, guaranteed they're not doing calculus as seniors," Lewis said.

With Michael R. Ebert

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