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Regents board adopts five-year graduation rates

High school graduates celebrate. (June 27, 2009)

High school graduates celebrate. (June 27, 2009) Photo Credit: Ed Betz / File

In a policy switch on high school graduation rates that some analysts consider a step backward, state Regents last night gave formal recognition to the fact that increasing numbers of teens take five years to earn their diplomas.

In a unanimous vote, the Regents board approved a new policy that would use five-year graduation rates to determine whether high schools meet the state's academic standards, rather than the four-year rates used in the past. The policy change requires federal approval, which is considered likely.

"Moving to a five-year graduation rate for accountability purposes will give schools and districts additional incentive to continue working with students to make sure they graduate, even if it takes an additional year to do so," said Jonathan Burman, a spokesman for the State Education Department, which reports to the Regents.

Educational conservatives criticized the move, contending it would ease pressures on low-performing high schools to improve.

"This decision, unfortunately, gives schools credit for failing to graduate their students on time," said B. Jason Brooks, research director for the Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability, an Albany think tank.

In recent years, many high schools, especially in inner cities and in poorer suburban communities such as Roosevelt and Wyandanch, have reported that students are taking longer to pass the state's newly required Regents exams and to graduate. The extent of the trend was illustrated in statewide graduation rates released last June.

Those figures show, for example, that 52.8 percent of New York City's Class of 2007 earned diplomas on time in four years, and that an additional 9.8 percent graduated a year later. In low-income suburban communities, 61.9 percent of students graduated in four years, and another 7.9 percent in five years.

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