For some city teachers and students, the big news this week wasn’t the release of teachers’ ratings but a slew of new policies meant to crack down on graduation rate inflation.
The new policies, which follow an audit that found errors and evidence of possible cheating at dozens of schools, change the way high school exams will be graded and limit the number of failed courses students can make up without repeating the class.
Today, high school students said tougher expectations are a good thing — as long as they are coupled with more support for schools.
The students were holding a rally and panel discussion at New York University Friday afternoon to draw attention to a campaign, spearheaded by City Councilmen Ydanis Rodriguez and Robert Jackson, and several advocacy groups including the Urban Youth Collaborative and the Coalition for Educational Justice.
For years, students affiliated with those groups have been urging the city to fund “success centers” inside schools where teens could get help preparing for college. And in 2009, CEJ began calling attention to a potential “looming crisis” posed by the state’s increasingly tough graduation standards — something a top Department of Education official told GothamSchools this week threatens to roll back graduation rates far more than the policy changes.
The students I spoke to had not heard yet about new policies, which the department announced Thursday, and did not know how their schools might be affected.
But one said some of the city’s new policies could hurt school graduation rates in the short run by making it more difficult for students to make up credits for courses they failed.
“A lot of students don’t have their credits, so they take credit recovery or Saturday academy,” said Lawrence Booker, a sophomore at Cypress Hills Community School. “If you’re only getting those three credits, there are people who fail many classes and really need those extra credits. It’s just going to devastate our community even more.”
Other students said students would be able to pass their classes more easily if the city would fund the success centers, which would house college advisors and tutors that students from multiple schools could use. Centers are currently open at two Brooklyn high school campuses, but students in other parts of the city are looking for similar support.
“The way things are set up, there’s not a place or someone we can go to,” said Crystal Goodwin, a senior at University Heights High School in the Bronx, which has a special exemption from the state so students are not required to take Regents exams in most subjects. “We do have a college advisor, but she’s always busy with the same 20 students so everybody gets the backburner.”
Another student I spoke to said his school tries to get students to graduation, but often falls short and sometimes gives up.
“They use the resources they have to try to get the students through high school but the students aren’t taught enough, so when they get to college they’re really not even ready for college,” said Wilvin Lopez, a senior at Samuel Gompers Career and Technical High School, which the city has decided to close because of its low performance. “I don’t know why they’re graduating students without being college-ready, but if anything it would be because they’re trying to get rid of students who have been in the school for six years and they don’t know what to do with them.”