Pandemic hurts graduation rates

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Rochester City School Board member Camille Simmons called a recent update on graduation outcomes for the upcoming senior class “extremely sobering.”

“But I must commend (Demario Strickland) for the transparency in the information,” she said. “The only way we can wrap our minds and our heads around what needs to happen in this district is to be up front, transparent, and direct about the information we put out there about our students.”

Last week, Strickland, deputy superintendent of teaching and learning at RCSD, revealed that the 2020 cohort – the group of students who entered high school in 2020 – had a projected graduation rate of 65.4 percent.

If that value holds, it would represent a return to the district graduation rates seen for the 2015 cohort, which were 63 percent. During the pandemic, cohorts actually saw some of the highest graduation rates in over a decade, reaching as high as 70 percent.

This projection is a slight drop compared to the 65.5 percent degree completion prediction at this same time last year. The 2019 cohort improved on that by 1.8 percentage points, ultimately ending up with a graduation rate of 67.3 percent.

“I would be remiss to talk about the COVID-19 impact,” Strickland said. “This cohort was the class where their freshman year was cut short in March 2021. All of the things that were up in the air and in confusion, that was happening to this class we’re talking about right here.”

Students were negatively affected during the pandemic by the disruption to instructional routine which caused longer term social and emotional traumas. Teachers nationwide have noted increases in student disruption due to misconduct as well as lower reading and math comprehension.

However, the 2020 cohort was also aided in some respects due to a number of exemptions to state exams from June 2020 to January 2023. In addition, special appeals can be submitted for graduating seniors who earned a 50 to 64 score on exams between June 2022 and August 2023.

These factors are likely the reason nearly 70 percent of all the cohort is meeting their Regents requirement for graduation even while falling behind in the 22 earned credits requirement.

Strickland also noted worryingly high dropout rates among English Language Learners (19.9 percent) and students with disabilities (12.9 percent) in the 2020 cohort.

“I highlight this because it is an area of focus for us. There are root causes that are happening that are causing that,” he said. “But, in multiple departments, we are looking further to determine why the dropouts are there.”

Among all schools, Rochester Early College High School had the highest projected graduation rate with 90.4 percent. School of the Arts, World of Inquiry, East Upper School, School Without Walls, and Joseph C Wilson Magnet High School also had projections above RSCD average.

Edison Career and Technology High School was tied exactly with district projections at 65.4 percent graduation. While a disappointing result for the board when compared with other schools and county-wide results, that figure is a sign of improvement. Nearly a decade ago, Edison had a graduation rate of 36 percent. It only achieved over 50 percent graduation after being put into receivership, a category for underperforming schools in New York.

“For them to be right at that cusp, it’s encouraging. It’s not where we want them to be obviously, we want (all schools) to be at 100 percent. But just to see them keeping pace with the district as a school that’s in receivership, that’s extremely commendable,” said Strickland.

Franklin Upper School had the lowest projected graduation rate with 37.6 percent. Its 2020 cohort was also the second largest at 245 students across the district.

“I appreciate the point you make because historically, Edison had become a dumping ground. Forgive me for not saying it politically correct, but that’s how I saw it. It was a dumping ground for students who didn’t elect to be there, who didn’t even know why they ended up there,” Simmons said.

“It concentrated all these needs into one school and now you see that again at Franklin,” she continued. “When I look at that rate for Franklin I think, this is a miscarriage of justice.”

The district has plans to attempt to raise the projected graduation rate above its 65.4 percent projection. Supports include evening and Saturday intervention programs, Central Office Administrator visits at schools three  days a week, counselors sharing accurate cohort tracking data, and recommendations for All City High School, the academic program specifically designed to catch students in time for graduation.

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and data journalist. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

2 thoughts on “Pandemic hurts graduation rates

  1. 64.5% of the RCSD cohort might have “graduated,” but perhaps 20% of the “graduates” are prepared for MCC. You cannot draw a valid inference from a RCSD diploma that a student is prepared for college or for work. Our RCSD school board papers over the fact that our graduates have a diploma but cannot read or do math proficiently. Our school board and the RCSD administration is neither up front, transparent, or direct about the true graduation rate, which is driven by the RCSD remaining dead last in academic growth in the nation. Jaime Aquino’s Distinguished Educator’s report is still accurate, every major system in the RCSD is broken and the board and the administration care mainly for adult interests – not for the interests of the students. Joe Klein

  2. If it’s NOT crystal-clear that RCSD graduation reports are thoroughly bogus — it’s necessarily because folks just don’t want to realize and/or admit the unadulterated truth. I mean how in the world do we logically explain: “During the pandemic, cohorts [SUPPOSEDLY] saw some of the highest graduation rates in over a decade, reaching as high as 70 percent” — yet “the 2020 cohort – the group of students who entered high school in 2020 – had a projected graduation rate of 65.4 percent.​”I remember the D&C’s education reporter, Justin Murphy asking in 2020 — if anyone had a logical explanation regarding the “70%” statistic. WE KNOW THE ANSWER TO THAT QUESTION. STOP INSULTING OUR INTELLIGENCE. ACTUALLY, AS IT RELATES TO LONG-STANDING, HISTORICAL, SUPER-LOW RCSD GRADUATION RATES — EVERYONE WHO IS PAYING ATTENTION KNOWS THAT NOTHING HAS CHANGED POSITIVELY, SUBSTANTIALLY, OR SIGNIFICANTLY OVER THE PAST TWENTY OR THIRTY YEARS, OR LONGER. THE LONG-STANDING, DECADES-OLD, CHRONIC EBB AND FLOW IS UNDENIABLE. SO, JUST STOP IT!!! >>>

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