Touting grad rate boosts, Bloomberg rejects state's concerns

City students are doing better than ever, the achievement gap is closing — and state officials’ concern about college readiness is misguided.

Those were the messages Mayor Bloomberg broadcast at the city’s press conference about new graduation rate data, which put the city’s official 4-year graduation rate over 60 percent for the first time.

Indeed, the data released today show that two trends continued last year: The city’s graduation rate again rose faster than that of other urban districts in New York State, and black and Hispanic students posted larger gains than white and Asian students, though they still lag far behind.

But today’s data also draw attention to the fact that many city students are making it to graduation despite weak academic skills. According to a new measure the state adopted this year, just 21 percent of students who entered city high schools in 2006 were ready for college four years later. A higher proportion of graduates — 35 percent — met the state’s standards, city officials noted.

Bloomberg said the focus on college readiness gives short shrift to real performance improvements. “If you don’t give people credit for what they’ve done, they can’t go on,” he said.

At the press conference, which took place at the Van Arsdale campus in Brooklyn, Bloomberg was accompanied by Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, department deputies, principals, students, and principals union president Ernest Logan — but not UFT President Michael Mulgrew. The mayor took aim at the state’s argument that city students are not ready for college, saying that measures of college-readiness are “just arbitrary points.”

For example, he said, the state now requires that a student pass the English Regents exam with a 75 to be considered college-ready, but tests can vary in difficulty over time.

A better way to look at the city’s performance, Bloomberg said, is to compare it to performance in the rest of the state and to its own performance in the past. In both comparisons, he said, New York City students today excel.

“We have improved the rate at which our kids get up to whatever arbitrary level we set for them,” Bloomberg said.

The next step, Bloomberg and Walcott both said, is to make that arbitrary level tougher through national “common core” curriculum standards, which the state adopted last year. Next year, Walcott said, the city will encourage all students to do in-depth English and math projects that require critical thinking, even though that requirement doesn’t go into effect until 2014.

“When you gradually introduce higher standards, students rise to that challenge,” Walcott said.

Amy Medina, a graduating senior at Williamsburg Preparatory High School, one of three schools in the Van Arsdale building, where the press conference took place, said her teachers pushed her to succeed. “They would bribe us with a whole bunch of foods” to attend Saturday morning Regents exam study sessions, she said. Medina said she is set to graduate with a Regents diploma with advanced designation and will enter the nursing program at Long Island University this fall.