After Graduation

City touts slight uptick in college readiness as new school reports go online

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer

Slightly more students left high school last year ready for college or jobs, though fewer than one-third of graduates met the academic skill requirements of the city’s public university system, according to city data released Monday.

The modest gains follow a small uptick in the state test scores of the city’s elementary and middle-school students, which were announced this summer. Those scores and the data about students’ preparedness for college or work are are included in the de Blasio administration’s new school-quality reports, which were posted online Monday.

Each school now gets two reports — one for families and one for educators— that include survey and school-observation findings alongside test scores and graduation rates. Most notably, the reports no longer rank schools or give them A-to-F letter grades, which the previous administration used to decide which schools to close.

Several parents praised the new reports Monday, saying they were glad to trade the bluntness of the letter grades for more nuanced school appraisals, even if it meant more work for them.

“Some parents would see the letter A and not read anything else,” said Dorna Phillip, whose son is sophomore at It Takes a Village Academy in East Flatbush. “This gives them a little more homework.”

The city included the information about students’ college readiness in an announcement Monday about the new school reports.

Among this year’s public high school graduates, 32 percent had high enough test scores to avoid remedial math and English classes at the City University of New York, the city said. Last year, 31 percent of graduates tested out of those review classes, up from 29 percent in 2012.

In addition, 51 percent of the class of 2013 enrolled in college, a work-training program, or public service after graduation, compared to 50 percent the year before.

And in the class of 2014, 46 percent of students passed at least one course or test — such as an Advanced Placement exam or a technical assessment tied to particular industry — meant to approximate college or professional-level work. The year before, 44 percent of students had taken those advanced courses.

The Bloomberg administration added those measures to its school ratings in 2012 after it became clear that even as more students graduated from high school, they were ill-equipped for college. (The vast majority of city high school graduates who enroll at CUNY must take remedial classes.)

Students who get a “taste of college” during high school through advanced classes or early-college programs tend to fare better after graduation, said Kim Nauer, the education project director at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs. Taking just one such course lowers the odds that a student will need to take review classes in college, according to a 2013 report about college readiness that Nauer co-authored.

Despite the benefits of college-preparatory courses, most high schools offer a limited selection, Nauer noted. Only 28 out of 342 schools reviewed for the report offered advanced algebra, chemistry or physics classes.

“That is still a big giant question mark for the current chancellor,” Nauer said. “What’s the quality of the college-preparatory curriculum in each high school?”

The bar for students to prove they are ready to take CUNY classes is higher than the one they must meet to earn a high school diploma. While high school students must earn at least 65 points on the required exit exams to graduate, they must score 75 in English and 80 in math on those same Regents exams to skip CUNY’s remedial classes. (They can also use their scores on the SAT, ACT, or CUNY’s own entrance tests.)

Even high-performing schools can struggle to help students hit that target. At It Takes a Village Academy, for instance, 91 percent of students graduate in four years, compared to the city average of 66 percent in 2013. Still, just 16 percent of the small high school’s graduates meet the CUNY proficiency standards.

Principal Marina Vinitskaya pointed out that nearly a quarter of her students are still learning English and many arrive with minimal reading skills. She said even if they are not considered college ready by the time they graduate, it is still a major accomplishment for them to earn diplomas.

“The same students, when they go to other high schools,” she said, “they don’t graduate at all.”

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.