High school graduation rates in New York rose by 9.4 percentage points within nearly a decade, but a new report by the New York Equity Coalition suggests this data could be inflated.
The class of 2021 saw an 86.1% graduation rate, up 9.4 percentage points from 76.7% for the class of 2012, according to New York State Department of Education data.
The New York Equity Coalition report, however, noted that when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted schools, the state canceled its June 2020 standardized high school tests known as the Regents exams.
“Since then, the state has made additional regulatory changes that make it easier for students to graduate from high school, including cancellation of additional Regents exams and adoption of a growing number of exemptions designed to lessen the burden of pandemic interruptions on students,” the report said.
The report found most students in the class of 2021 were exempt from at least one Regents exam. According to the report, 70.9% of students graduated with an exemption from at least one graduation requirement.
The report looked at subgroups of students and found that graduation rates rose over the last four years for English learners, students with disabilities and low-income students. But in 2021, these groups disproportionately relied on exemptions to graduate compared to all students.
New York was not alone in relaxing certain graduation requirements during the pandemic. Other states, for example, showed leniency over electives and core credits for high school seniors.
Meanwhile, a May report from the Brookings Institution analyzing how the pandemic affected high school graduation found 25 states showed increased graduation rates in 2020. But the rates in those states generally returned to pre-pandemic levels in 2021.
The Brookings study pointed to the temporary relaxation of standards as a likely factor in the uptick in graduation rates.
The New York Equity Coalition report recommends the state use new federal and state funding to help students meet graduation requirements. All eligible students should take the Regents exam, the report said, and data on those results should be more transparent and accurate.