Long Island's black and Hispanic students are earning more Regents diplomas in high school and narrowing the achievement gap with whites, according to the state's latest "report cards."
Results released Thursday show the proportion of the Island's black graduates with Regents diplomas rose from 80.3 percent in 2008 to 84.1 percent last June. Hispanics' numbers increased from 85 percent to 86.8 percent.
White students' performance numbers also improved, but less rapidly, from 93.7 percent to 94.6 percent.
At Westbury High School, Principal Manny Arias says he talks personally with every teen who fails a Regents exam, and encourages many to sign up for three-hour Saturday tutoring sessions designed to help them pass the next time around. Westbury's enrollment is 67 percent Hispanic, and the number of graduates with Regents diplomas there has jumped from 69 percent to 77 percent over the past three years.
"I'm very pleased with that, but that's not where I want to go," said Westbury's superintendent, Constance Clark-Snead. "I'm looking for 90 percent."
Since 1995, state school officials have prodded more teens to earn Regents diplomas, which require studies at a basic college-prep level. At the time that push began, 50 percent of the Island's students, and 38 percent statewide, earned such credentials.
District-by-district data released Thursday show that the overall percentage of students earning Regents diplomas on the Island hit 90.5 percent in June. The statewide figure was 85.5 percent.
To obtain Regents diplomas, students must pass at least five state Regents exams with scores of 65 or better. Exams are in English, American history, global history, algebra and science.
Another 7.4 percent of the Island's students graduated in June with local diplomas, which can be obtained with Regents exam scores of between 55 and 64. And 1.6 percent earned IEP diplomas, which are reserved for students with severe disabilities.
Thursday's news of continued academic improvement came at a time when districts face the threat of state-aid cuts. As a result, some local school officials wondered aloud whether they could maintain the academic momentum next year if forced to lay off teachers.
One such district is Copiague, where 78 percent of enrollment is either black or Hispanic. The percentage of students earning Regents diplomas there rose to 83 percent in June, from 81 percent two years earlier.
Superintendent Charles Leunig says he expects to lose 24 teaching slots next year, mostly through attrition, and worries about the impact on instruction.
"It's really a struggle," he said.
Top five districts
Cold Spring Harbor: 100 %
Fishers Island: 100 %
East Williston: 99 %
Jericho: 99 %
Locust Valley: 99 %