2005-07-20 / Front Page

NYS Ed Dept. Admits High School Graduation stats Were Wrong

by Linda J. wilson

William Cullen Bryant H.S.
William Cullen Bryant H.S. Figures released last week by the state Department of Education showing that only 9 percent of students who entered Community School District 30 high schools as freshmen in 2000 graduated four years later were admitted to be in error by Education Department officials on Saturday. William Cullen Bryant and Long Island City H.S., just two of the high schools in District 30, each have more than 3,500 students enrolled, a fact which immediately called the state Education Department statistics into question. “The figures are obviously inaccurate,” an official in Region 4, which encompasses District 30, said on Monday, “We’re not sure where the error occurred, but we’re trying to work this out.”

Long Island City H.S.
Long Island City H.S. The same set of statistics showed that Bayside H.S., in District 26 under the aegis of Region 5, had the highest graduation rates in Queens, with 74.7 percent of its students graduating. District 26 also had one of the lowest dropout rates in the city—only 5.1 percent of students dropped out of high school without graduating. Also ranking fairly high in the number of graduates who completed their course of study in four years was Forest Hills H.S. in District 28. The corrected statistics put the District 30 graduation rate at higher than 55 percent, the citywide average.

State Education Department officials originally claimed that the erroneous figures had been submitted by the city Department of Education, but were forced to retrench when it developed that only a part of the data submitted by the city had been used by the state to calculate the District 30 graduation rates. A spokesperson for the state Education Department admitted that the error had come from Albany, not the Tweed Courthouse, now the headquarters of the city Department of Education.

City Councilmember Eric Gioia, who has made education in his 26th councilmanic district a priority since he was first elected in 2001, blasted the mistake. “After addressing seniors at four high school graduations this year and speaking to hundreds of hard-working graduates, I was immediately skeptical of the statistics that DOE had originally released for Astoria and Long Island City," he said. “It stretched the limits of credibility to believe that less than 10 percent of our high school students were graduating within four years, and the number should have raised immediate red flags in the Department before being released. I am glad that the error has now been exposed, but it is imperative that the problem be identified and fixed right away.”

For the fourth successive year, Gioia visited every public school in his district and spoke to principals, teachers, parents and more than 2,000 students. He also gave dictionaries to every elementary school graduate in the Sunnyside-Woodside-Long Island City neighborhoods that make up his district and for the first year, every high school graduate in the city received a voter registration card as a result of a law that he wrote.

Gioia has also been a tenacious advocate for expanding extracurricular opportunities for all children.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is addressing high school graduation and dropout rates with several long-term solutions, including phasing out social promotion for 7th graders. In a speech at Columbia University Teachers College, Bloomberg noted that eliminating social promotion in the lower grades has led to improved test scores for 3rd and 5th grade students in the city’s public schools.

The Bloomberg proposal would phase in the change in two stages over the course of two school years. Promotion into 8th grade at the end of the new school year would be based on a score of Level 2 or higher on the 7th grade state English Language Arts test, or through an appeals process that will evaluate student work based on standard citywide criteria. During the following school year, those standards will be applied to student math proficiency as well.

Seventh grade is the launching pad for high school, the mayor said, and too many public school students are presently unprepared to leave middle school.

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