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Long IslandEducation

State: LI high school graduation rates improve

Members of the Class of 2013 celebrate their

Members of the Class of 2013 celebrate their graduation from Gen. Douglas MacArthur High School during a ceremony at Hofstra University. (June 15, 2013) Credit: Frank Posillico

High school graduation rates on Long Island showed a small improvement last year, even as education officials attempted to raise standards, state officials said Monday.

Long Island's average graduation rate for the class of 2012 inched up to 87.6 percent -- a 0.6 percentage-point rise from the previous year, according to data released by the state Education Department. Nassau County had a marginal increase, from 88.3 percent to 89.1 percent, as did Suffolk, which went from 85.9 percent to 86.3 percent, the figures showed.

The statewide graduation rate was 74.2 percent, up 0.2 percentage points from the year before.

The statistics, for students who graduated on time in June 2012, showed a slight decrease in students awarded Regents Diplomas with Advanced Designations, which state education officials view as a better indicator of readiness for college coursework. That rate on Long Island was 47.7 percent last year, down from 49.4 percent the year before.

Among individual school districts, the changes were sometimes more distinct than statewide or Islandwide averages.

In Nassau, the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Central School District had a graduation rate of 95.7 percent, up from 87.8 percent the year before. The Westbury school district showed a 13 percentage-point drop, from 75.7 percent for the Class of 2011 to 63.2 percent for last June's graduates.

In Suffolk, the Islip school district showed a 7 percentage-point drop, from 95.5 percent to 88.7 percent for the Class of 2012, while the Wyandanch Union Free School District showed a 4 percentage-point improvement, from 58.1 percent to 62.3 percent.

State officials said the relatively unchanged indicators on the state level were evidence of a better overall education, because the numbers had not gone down as standards toughened.

"Despite all the naysayers, raising standards was the right thing to do," Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch said in a statement. "Our teachers and students rose to the challenge."

On a cautionary note, she added that: "The rates may be stable even with the increased rigor, but stable doesn't equal success. . . . Tens of thousands of students are still leaving high school with no diploma and fewer options for the future."

State Education Commissioner John B. King acknowledged that "the graduation rates, the achievement gaps, and the painfully low rate of college and career readiness" -- particularly among large school districts in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse -- are proof that more reform is needed.

The Albany-based Alliance for Quality Education, an advocacy group, said that despite the flat statewide statistics, there is a "gulf in graduation rates" between high-need and low-need districts -- generalized classifications based on property wealth and the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunch, among other factors.

The alliance, in a statement, noted King had pointed out that nearly 94 percent of students from low-need districts earned a high school diploma, while only 65 percent of students from high-need urban-suburban districts did so. The group said state policies are not working to close what it called the "educational opportunity gap."

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