A New York high school diploma is too easy to attain

by Grace

What’s the point of helping students graduate from high school if that doesn’t prepare them for college and career success?  This question arises from a study seeking ways to improve the public schools in Yonkers, New York.

The holy grail for urban school systems has long been to increase their graduation rates. In other words, hand out those diplomas so students have a chance to make it.

But the people at Yonkers Partners In Education, a private group obsessed with helping Yonkers students thrive, began to see that mere graduation is not enough. They wanted to find the keys to preparing students for college success….

But too many Yonkers students were not making it in college. YPIE began to doubt the point of helping students graduate from high school if they weren’t ready for college work.

“If they are not prepared to be successful in college, are we doing them a service or disservice?” YPIE Executive Director Wendy Nadel said. “We don’t want to throw time and money at things that won’t make a real difference for students.”

The study, College and Career Readiness in the New York State Public Schools, found the utterly predictable “strong link between poverty and students’ readiness for college”.

Class size doesn’t matter.

While some study results were not surprising, other findings contradict conventional wisdom by showing that “class size and per-pupil spending” have little correlation to student readiness for college.

New York high school graduation standards are too low.

A major problem, Kroll found, is that a high school diploma has been too easy to attain in New York. Students need to pass only one Regents exam in math, for instance, to earn a Regents diploma. Because of the way the state curves its algebra exam, a student could get a 65 “passing” score on the June 2013 exam by earning only 34 percent of all points on the test.

“The graduation bar is too low,” Kroll said. “A 65 on a Regents exam gets you nowhere.”

The next challenge will be finding the elusive best practices in high-performing schools and then implementing them in the low-performing schools.

The ultimate goal is to identify districts that outperform their poverty levels, analyze how they do it and share the results.

“We don’t want to provide an excuse, like, ‘Don’t judge us because we have poverty,’ ” he said. “But we need to filter out the effects of poverty so we can judge how districts and teachers are doing. Let’s find out why some (districts and schools) get better results in poor communities.”

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Gary Stern, “Statistics show poverty’s impact on student success”, Journal News, December 20, 2014.

Bud Kroll, College and Career Readiness in the New York State Public Schools, Yonkers Partners in Education, YPIE Research Report 14-01, May 2014.

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