graduation day

Statewide graduation rates tick up for most students, but not English learners

A slide from the state's report on annual graduation rates, which saw a continued drop for English language learners.

Fewer than one-quarter of the city’s 2013 high school graduates scored high enough on their Regents exams to be considered ready for college or a career, state education officials said today.

Across the state, nearly 75 percent of students who entered high school in 2009 graduated four years later, an improvement of almost one percentage point over last year. That improvement mirrored New York City’s, which saw its graduation rate increase from 60.4 percent to 61.3 percent—numbers that were first released by the Bloomberg administration last year.

Statewide, college and career readiness numbers also crept upward, but remained much lower. Just 37 percent of students across the state hit targets needed to be considered ready for college or a career. And while more students from almost every demographic group are graduating high school on time, a glaring exception is the state’s English language learners, who struggled for a second year to meet the state’s new graduation requirements.

Now required to pass five Regents exams with a score of 65 or higher, these students’ graduation rate dropped more than three percentage points since last year—from 34.3 percent to 31.4 percent—and nearly six percentage points since 2011. In New York City, where about one in seven students are classified as an English language learner, the two-year drop was even steeper, falling from 39.4 percent to 32.3 percent.

Advocates said they were disturbed by the downward trend for English learners, even if it was predictable. In 2011, the state did away with the less rigorous “local diploma,” which allowed students to graduate if they scored at least a 55 on the Regents exams.

“We feared that this was going to happen,” said Claire Sylvan, executive director of Internationals Network for Public Schools, which exclusively serves students who move to the United States with limited or no English language skills. Sylvan, who was in Albany for the Board of Regents meeting where the statistics were presented, said the results were “astounding” to see.

The presence of the local diploma, still available for students with disabilities, had helped prop up the city’s increased graduation rates for years.

“Raising standards and moving away from the local diploma was the right thing to do,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, noting the many groups of students who “rose to the challenge” of the higher standards.

Still, state education officials acknowledged the growing achievement gap, and said they were considering several changes to graduation requirements, include whether to give a different test to English language learners. The Regents were also planning to discuss ways give students more opportunities to graduate based on more than passing classes and standardized exams, including the creation of “pathways” that would put students on a career track starting in high school.

Officials also pointed out that once students progress past the English language learner classification, they graduate at a rate closer to the rest of the state, which State Education Commissioner John King said was proof that students could thrive if they’re given the right amount of academic support. Last year, “one-time ELL” students graduated at a 71 percent clip.

King used the announcement to rally support around the state’s implementation of the Common Core standards. Though some Regents exams were Common Core-aligned for the first time this year, students won’t need to pass those exams for graduation until the 2022 school year.

“Far too many students, even if they graduate from high school, still haven’t completed the advanced and rigorous course work to be ready for college or the workplace,” King said in a statement.

The state also announced that about 70 percent of about 2,200 students who entered a charter high school in 2009 graduated. That’s above the average graduation rate for New York City, where most of the state’s charter high schools are located.

New York City’s graduation rate isn’t news because former Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the city’s four-year graduation rates for 2013 in an unusually timed press conference last December. The city’s graduation rate represents a nearly 15-point jump since 2005.

City officials didn’t say much after the state’s announcement. Chancellor Carmen Fariña took the chance to tout the city’s pre-kindergarten expansion and push to improve middle schools.

“Graduation rates are moving in the right direction, but we have a long way to go,” Fariña said. “But the most important thing is also to keep in mind that it’s not about just getting into college, it’s staying there all four years.” [documentcloud id=1202882-2013-gradrateslides-6-19-14]

legislative update

Senators kill two education proposals, but plan to replace ISTEP moves ahead with a new high school test

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
The Senate Education Committee had its last 2017 meeting today.

The plan to replace Indiana’s unpopular ISTEP exam took another step forward Wednesday as the Senate Education Committee finished up its work for the year.

The committee killed two bills and passed four, including an amended version of the bill to overhaul the state testing system. The bill passed 7-4, but some lawmakers still weren’t happy with the plan — especially because the bill continues to tie teacher evaluations to state test results and removes a requirement for students to take end-of-course exams that many principals and educators had supported.

The amended bill would:

  • Require high school students to take a national college entrance exam, such as the SAT or ACT, rather than end-of-course exams. The Indiana State Board of Education would choose the specific test and set a passing score needed for graduation.
  • Create tests that would allow Indiana students to be compared with peers nationally.
  • Allow the state to create its own test questions only if the option saves Indiana money or would be necessary to ensure the test complies with Indiana academic standards.
  • Require schools to give state tests on computers or using “digital technology” unless they receive a waiver from the education department.
  • Create a legislative panel to study Indiana’s teacher evaluation laws and draft a final report by Nov. 1.

Some of the changes in the amendment came from state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. Earlier this month, she outlined some of those ideas for the committee, which were similar to ones pushed by former schools chief Glenda Ritz. But that still didn’t make it especially popular with the committee today.

“I’m still not comfortable with where we are,” said Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Merrillville.

Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, and Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, also expressed concerns about the bill, although Leising voted “yes” because the state is still required to have a test, she said.

“I’m very disappointed we can’t move away from ISTEP more quickly,” Leising said. “I’m most disappointed that we’re still going to evaluate teachers based on ISTEP results which nobody believes in currently.”

Here are the rest of the bills that passed the committee today. All of them still must face debate by the full Senate, and likely further discussions by the House:

Charter school renewal and closure: House Bill 1382 would make changes to how the Indiana State Board of Education handles authorizers who want to renew charters for schools that have failed for four years in a row. This proposal, as well as other changes, could benefit Indiana’s struggling virtual charter schools — particularly Hoosier Academies.

The bill was amended today to give the state board of education more control over what education and experience charter school teachers need in order to be allowed to teach.

High school graduation rate and student mobility: House Bill 1384 would require the Indiana State Board of Education to consider a school’s rate of student turnover from year to year when it assigns A-F accountability grades.

But it was amended today to change previous language that would have given schools two A-F grades — one reflecting state test results from students who move around frequently, and one based on students who have been at the school for at least a year. The amendment removes the two grades and instead would instruct the state board to consider student mobility in the existing A-F system, and “whether any high school should be rewarded for enrolling credit deficient students or penalized for transferring out credit deficient students.”

This bill, too, has implications for Indiana virtual schools, which have struggled to show success educating a wide range of students. The schools have complained that they often accept students who are far behind their peers and are using the school as a last-ditch chance to graduate.

The bill also includes two proposals regarding private schools and vouchers.

Teacher induction program: House Bill 1449, offered by Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Mishawaka, would create a program to support new teachers, principals and superintendents that would be considered a pilot until 2027.

And here are the bills that died, both authored by House Education Committee Chairman Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis:

Elementary school teacher licenses: House Bill 1383 would encourage the state board of education to establish content-area-specific licenses, including math and science, for elementary teachers. It was defeated by the committee 6-5

Competency-based learning: House Bill 1386 would provide grants for five schools or districts that create a “competency-based” program, which means teachers allow students to move on to more difficult subject matter once they can show they have mastered previous concepts or skills, regardless of pace (Learn more about Warren Township’s competency-based program here). It was defeated by the committee 8-3.

under study

Tennessee lawmakers to take a closer look at school closures

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
The once-bustling sidewalks outside of shuttered Lincoln Elementary School are empty today. Shelby County Schools closed the school in 2015.

In five years, more than 20 public schools have closed in Memphis, often leaving behind empty buildings that once served as neighborhood hubs.

Now, Rep. Joe Towns wants to hit the pause button.

The Memphis Democrat asked a House education subcommittee on Tuesday to consider a bill that would halt school closures statewide for five years. The measure would require the state comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability to study the impact on students and communities before allowing local districts to shutter schools again.

The panel will review Towns’ proposal during a summer study session.

Towns said empty school buildings hurt property values, lower tax revenue, and hit local governments in the pocketbook. Currently, there’s no Memphis-specific research on the economic impact of shuttering schools.

“There are unintended consequences,” Towns said. “What this does to a community is not good. Who here would want to live next to a school that’s been closed?”

Rep. Mark White, a Memphis Republican who chairs the subcommittee, said he sympathizes. But pausing school closures might make it more difficult for Shelby County Schools to balance its budget, he said.

“Our superintendent is faced with buildings that hold a thousand kids, and they’re down to 250,” White said. “I don’t want to put one more burden on them.”

Last fall, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the district may need to close 18 schools in the next five years if student enrollment continues to decline. Hopson recently unveiled a framework for investing in struggling schools before being considering them for closure.

Any future school closures in Memphis won’t be just to cut costs, district leaders have said. And for the first time since the historic merger, Shelby County Schools is not grappling with a budget deficit.