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Long Island, NYS high school graduation rates rise in 2014

A row of new Syosset High School graduates

A row of new Syosset High School graduates examine their diplomas at their graduation ceremony in the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex at Hofstra University. (June 19, 2013) Photo Credit: Quinn O'Callaghan

High school graduation rates rose on Long Island in 2014 for the third consecutive year and results also improved statewide, with some of the biggest gains recorded in New York City, according to a state report issued Thursday.

Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the Board of Regents, said the improvement shows that the state was starting to see beneficial results from a "reform" movement launched in 2010, while an aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said New York still lagged behind other states.

The state Education Department reported Thursday that the percentage of high school seniors who graduated on time in June rose to 76.4 percent -- up from the previous year's 74.9 percent statewide.

Modest increase on LI

On Long Island, where graduation rates are substantially higher, the rate of increase was more modest. The regional percentage of seniors graduating in June was 88.5 percent, compared with the previous year's 88.3 percent.

New York City's rate, though lower, showed more improvement. The percentage of seniors getting diplomas on time there was 64.2 percent, compared with the previous year's 61.3 percent.

Some school districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties also recorded higher-than-average gains. In Freeport, 77.3 percent of the Class of 2014 graduated last spring. That number was up from 69.8 percent in 2013, and from about 60 percent five years ago. "Every year for the last five years, we have broken our own records, and we're very proud of the work that's going on here in Freeport," said Kishore Kuncham, the district's superintendent.

But graduation rates dipped in dozens of local school systems, including the William Floyd district in Suffolk County, where 76.9 percent of seniors got diplomas last spring, compared with 77.4 percent the previous year.

Superintendent Paul Casciano said this particular cohort of students went through eighth, ninth and 10th grades at a time when the district had to make significant cuts in its budget and programs, eliminating 200 staff, including more than 125 teachers and administrators.

"I am not satisfied with things just standing still, and all of us want things to get better, but in some ways we are pleased we didn't go tremendously backward," Casciano said. "We took a huge hit during the recession in terms of support for students."

Casciano added that the most recent graduation rates remain a great improvement over 2006, when the rate was 61 percent.

In Albany, educational leaders noted that students in the Class of 2014 entered high school in 2010, shortly after New York State adopted ambitious new Common Core academic standards. As a result, those students experienced changes in curriculum, though not in state tests that are being revised only now to reflect the new standards.

State officials simultaneously began pushing districts to help students become more college- and career-ready. That theme, a hallmark of President Barack Obama's administration, is widely credited for encouraging more teens to stay in school and graduate.

"The reforms we started in 2010 are being put into practice every day in classrooms across the state, and we're starting to see the benefits," Tisch said in a statement Thursday.

Jim Malatras, the governor's director of state operations, agreed in a letter to Tisch that New York had seen educational improvements over the past four years. He added, however, that the state continued to face critical challenges, and that "we lag in graduation rates."

The latest federal statistics, for the 2010-11 school year, showed that New York ranked 30th among states in graduation performance and also slightly below the national average. Iowa ranked first that year.

NY's bar called higher

Representatives of school organizations in New York noted that this state requires students to pass five Regents exams to earn diplomas -- a higher bar, they said, than that set by many other states.

Those advocates added that New York is a state of contrasts, with some of the nation's richest and highest-performing school districts, and some of the poorest and lowest-achieving.

"We have districts, including some on Long Island, that are leaders in producing winners of the Intel Science Talent Search. We have districts that are struggling," said Robert Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents Long Island on the Regents board, said those contrasts convinced him that the state needs to start differentiating among districts, rather than imposing the same requirements on all regarding teacher evaluation, testing and other accountability measures. "Our needs are different, and the solutions are different," Tilles said.

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