WATERTOWN — New York state high school dropout rates are lower than the national average, though state officials acknowledge even a 10 to 15 percent dropout rate is still too high.
Stephen J. Todd, Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services superintendent, said he found it gratifying to see New York, especially schools in this region, had more students graduate.
“I don’t want to say we’re satisfied till every student achieves success,” Mr. Todd said. “However, not every student finds success in the typical education system.”
A report by The American Educational Research Association said high school dropout rates increased nationally as states mandated more math and science coursework, reaching 11.41 percent when students were required to take six math and science courses, compared with 8.6 percent for students without a requirement. In New York, state Education Department spokesman Jonathan Burman said 74.9 percent of high school seniors graduated in 2013. Mr. Todd said students in the Jefferson-Lewis school districts had 80 to 90 percent graduation rates.
State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch said in a release by the state Education Department in June 2013 that raising standards was the right thing to do.
“Our teachers and students rose to the challenge. Now it’s time to rise to the next challenge,” Ms. Tisch said. ”This is an ongoing tragedy. Tens of thousands of students are still leaving high school with no diploma and fewer options for the future.”
The study concluded that increased mathematics and science graduation requirements in the 1980s to 1990s had both intended and unintended consequences by raising the bar for students to enter a technology-focused job market, but also causing students already struggling to quit school.
“When the Regents adopted the more rigorous requirements in 2005, many predicted that graduation rates would plummet and dropout rates would rise, but the data shows that the exact opposite happened,” Mr. Burman wrote in an email.
He said that in 2005, the Board of Regents adopted more rigorous graduation requirements for New York’s students. Specifically, the board passed regulations that phased out, over several years, the local diploma option for general education students. He said those students would, instead, be required to pass five Regents exams, in mathematics, science, English, U.S. history and global history, with a score of 65 or better and earn all of their required course credits in order to graduate.
“The 2008 cohort, the class of 2012, was the first cohort for which a local diploma was not available for general education students,” Mr. Burman wrote. He said the local diploma continues to be an option for students with disabilities.
The study, written by written Andrew D. Plunk, William F. Tate, Laura J. Bierut and Richard A. Grucza of Washington University in St. Louis, modeled course graduation requirement exposure on three factors: high school dropout, beginning college, and obtaining any college degree.
“I began looking at math and science graduation requirements because I was interested the broader question of how expanding math and science literacy affects people,” Mr. Plunk wrote in an email. “We looked at education first and it turns out that more people seem to have been negatively affected than who benefited, at least in the short term.”
Peter S. Brouwer, dean of education and professional studies at SUNY Potsdam, said any changes to curriculum and requirements have an immediate impact on students and faculty to adjust to the new curriculum.
“New York state changes the curriculum every 10 years. Externally it looks the same, but the content has been ramped up,” Mr. Brouwer said. “The consequences are that some groups may be affected more than others.”
One way schools in the state could achieve further success with increasing graduation rates and decreasing dropout rates would be to adopt a multiple-pathways initiative, a proposed legislation called Century 21 Initiative, that would give students options of area-focused diplomas.
“Honestly, I think this would be the single biggest gamep-changer for high school education,” Mr. Todd said.
The initiative would allow several options for students to achieve their diplomas. Some would require the students to successfully take all five Regents exams while others would require only some of the tests.
“This doesn’t water down their work. It would still be a rigorous process. It just defines not all kids have to be successful in the same way to be a success,” Mr. Todd said. “Kids fall through the cracks if their success and potential success isn’t acknowledged.”
Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush said the Century 21 initiative and a pilot program are being discussed in the state Legislature. He said it is unlikely anything will happen within the next year, but the initiative is a step in the right direction.
“I think we’re missing the boat and we should prepare kids for life after high school while keeping the standards high,” Mr. Blankenbush said. “Not every student is going to be college bound, and we can still provide a rigorous education to prepare them to enter the workforce.”
In the press release by American Education Research Association, the writers concluded that many students were ill-prepared for tougher standards and ultimately failed to graduate.
“The biggest thing is to be mindful of how broad, one-size-fits-all policies might not work very well for some kids and to try to intervene before something bad, like dropping out of high school, happens to them just because they were ill-prepared,” Mr. Plunk wrote.