Interim New York State Education Commissioner Shannon Tahoe announced Thursday that Rochester had the biggest year-to-year increase in graduation rates among the big five school districts. These numbers are based on August 2019 graduates, which Tahoe said the department bases its metrics on.
But the biggest news for Rochester was the district’s graduation rate, which is 63%.
Board of Education President Van White said that is the best rate the Rochester has had since since the 1990s. State Education Department data only goes back to 1999.
“The fact that our graduation rate is the highest it's been in two decades is not an accident,” said White. “It happened because we’re measuring where our children were from the moment they stepped into high school to the moment they stepped on stage.”
White credits a system he calls “predictive analytics” for helping the district identify and provide help for high school students who need help catching up with their studies. The analytics are based on grades, test scores and other factors.
White said this system is far from foolproof, but it gives district staff and parents time to intervene before kids fall too far behind.
“This isn’t a one-off, this isn’t coincidental, this isn’t accidental, and it began with a very basic principle: what gets measured, gets done,” White said.
Rochester’s schools will have to get creative to continue these efforts in light of its budget crunch. The district laid off about 150 staff members mid-year.
“You know what they say, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention,’ ” White said.
The district also saw the number of dropouts fall by 7%, and it also saw a 15% increase among English Language Learners who graduated high school.
“These numbers are a testament to the hard work our RCSD family has done over the last year. We are clearly taking big steps towards assuring all of our students graduate,” said Superintendent Terry Dade in a statement. “However, much work is still to be done during very difficult times. I am convinced that we can achieve great accomplishments working together for the benefit of our students.”
But the work is far from done. Rochester still has the lowest graduation rate of the state’s five largest school districts. And White acknowledges that the district lags in getting students college- or career-ready. He also said that English and math scores are too low. The district’s graduation rate is still below the state average, which is 83%.