2011-05-27 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Graduation Rates Up, But Can Anybody Here Do The Work?
Commentary By Howard Schwach

In this space last week, I wrote of the fact that the state and city departments of education have been cooking the books, making the high-stakes standardized math and reading tests easier to pass by reducing the cut score each year until 2009, when they got caught with their hands in the cookie jar and had to move that score – the percentage of questions answered correctly to achieve a certain educational level, back to where it was when Mayor Mike Bloomberg first took over the school system.

That proved that all the gains made in test scores over his stewardship of the schools were illusionary, designed both to keep Bloomberg in office and New York State getting federal money for showing improvement under the No Child Left Behind Act.

So much for Bloomberg’s promise that he would radically increase test scores.

His second promise was that graduation rates would climb.

They did, but only in a parallel fashion to the reading score debacle.

When Bloomberg made the promise, fewer than half of the high school students in the city were graduating.

Today, that rate stands at about 64.5 percent.

That rate is illusionary as well.

The state admitted earlier this year that while more than 64 percent of our students graduate, only 22.8 percent of those graduates are considered ready for either college or a career.

That’s a difference of 41.7 percent. What that means in real numbers is that only 23 out of 100 students who graduate from high school are ready for a higher degree or to go out into the world and work.

That’s Bloomberg’s real legacy. Inflated scores and graduates who should not have graduated.

The state defines students as college or career ready if they score at least 80 percent on the state’s math Regents exam and at least 75 percent on the English Regents exam.

Most teachers will tell you that the tests have been dumbed down over the past several years and made much easier to pass. That makes the state’s threshold an easy one for students to achieve. Yet, only 22.8 percent do.

What is the state’s reaction to their own horrendous statistic?

They propose to provide two graduation diplomas – one that says “college and career ready” and the other that says “not college or career ready.”

What a joke!

By the way, the New York State Education Department statistics show that charter school students throughout the state do far worse than the public school students when it comes to the rate of graduating students who are not ready for either college or a career.

According to those statistics, charter schools have a 49 percent graduation rate, but that only 10 percent of those students are college or career ready.

What does the fact that the great majority of high school graduates are unprepared to leave school mean in human terms?

Ask the people at the City University of New York.

The tide of remedial students entering CUNY has now swelled so large that the university’s six community colleges are having to rethink what and how they teach.

About three-quarters of the 17,500 students at the community colleges this year have needed remedial instruction in reading, math, and writing and nearly a quarter of the freshmen have required instruction in all three of those areas. In the past five years, that cohort of students – dubbed “triple low remedial,” with the severest deficits in all three subjects has doubled to more than 10,000 students.

The law requires CUNY to accept every applicant who has a high school diploma or an equivalency diploma.

To bring those students up to speed, the colleges spent more than $30 million last year on remediation – twice as much as it spent 10 years ago.

They have begun an immersion program that funnels students directly into a remediation program before they are allowed to take even the most fundamental of college level courses.

In 2001, there were 3,041 CUNY students in fouryear colleges who required remediation. This year, nine years after Bloomberg took over the schools, there are 4,168.

Students must take the remedial courses until they either pass so that they are allowed to take college level coursework or they drop out. Many drop out, discouraged that they received a high school diploma that is largely useless.

One CUNY official told a New York Times reporter, “These students have a very low probability of success, and it’s hard to know how to work with them. There is no question that the more remedial work a student needs, the less likely they are ever to graduate from college.”

That’s what Bloomberg’s rise in graduation rates mean to a great majority of those who achieve a diploma.

We are graduating far more students who know far less than their predecessors.

That’s because students today don’t actually learn content area material. They learn, instead, how to pass the standardized tests they must take every year from the third grade on. A large chunk of classroom time is used for test-taking skills and practice tests.

The tests are all, and education has gone out of the window in the name of accountability.

And, even the graduation rate claimed by the DOE and Bloomberg may be illusionary.

According to a recent audit by New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, the dropout rate among New York City students is actually higher than that announced by the DOE.

His auditors found that for 2004 through 2008, the dropout rate was 16.5 percent, rather than the 13 percent claimed by Bloomberg and his DOE henchmen.

So much for school gains.

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