(AP & WXXI News) New York state's high school graduation rate continued its slow upward climb in 2016, when 79.4 percent of students earned a diploma after four years.
The graduation rate released Friday by the state Department of Education is 1.3 percent higher than the 78.1 percent for the class of 2015. State officials say black and Hispanic students and students in the bigger cities were among those making gains.
New York City's rate was just under 70 percent, up 2.4 percent from the previous year. Syracuse posted a 6.4 percent increase, to 61 percent, while the other so-called Big Five school districts of Buffalo, Rochester and Yonkers had graduation rates of 61.7 percent, 47.5 percent and 77.5 percent, respectively.
Rochester saw a 2 percent increase in the graduation rate from the previous year, but at 47.5 percent it was still the lowest rate of the “Big 5” school districts.
School Board president Van White says the graduation rate is obviously still disappointing, but he sees some progress being made.
“You can see we’ve made some significant progress in the right direction but not enough ,not clearly enough. Even if we were to get to 60 (percent) which many of the Big 5 are at, that wouldn’t be enough. No one is claiming that getting above 50 is the number that we need to get at.”
White did express confidence in the ability of new Superintendent. Barbara Deane-Williams, who came on board last summer, to help move the district in a better direction.
Deane-Williams released a statement saying that the modest increases in the latest numbers offer signs of encouragement, but the graduation rates have remained unacceptably low for too long. Deane-Williams says the district is taking steps to improve academics including the use of new data tools to make it easier to track a student’s progress in real time.
In a conference call, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said they're making progress, but more work needs to be done.
"We all know that if kids don't have a high school diploma, they're not prepared. So we've got to get them there and that's the focus of keeping this data and refocusing districts on the needs that certain groups have and/or generally a district has," she said.
New York state has 2.6 million students in public schools. State data shows that more than half are considered economically disadvantaged.