The Education Trust–New York statement on graduation data for the class of 2023

Mar 22, 2024 | Press Release

“The graduation data released this week strongly suggests that the graduation rate did not change pre- and post-pandemic, which raises serious concerns. These students entered high school in the fall of 2019 and had to abruptly transition to remote learning in March 2020. It is well-known that during that time, many students dropped out, became disengaged, and stopped attending school. Given this context, it is incredibly difficult to comprehend how the graduation rate for this group did not drop compared to pre-pandemic rates. Part of the answer may be that the graduation requirements were lowered by the New York State Education Department (NYSED) during the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years, including a provision that allowed students scoring as low as 50% on Regents exams to earn a Regents diploma. This leads to further questions about the stability of the graduation rate results and the ability to compare the rates to previous years.

The data released by NYSED lacks transparency in terms of how many students graduated with exemptions or other changes made to the graduation requirements during the pandemic. The lack of this type of disaggregated information in this release raises more questions than it answers. Our own analysis through a public records request for the class of 2021 showed a significant increase – from 10% in 2020 to 70% in 2021 of the number of graduates utilizing a Regents exam exemption. It is imperative that the state release disaggregated data so that we can fully understand how changes to graduation requirements affected this cohort of students. This information is critical as the State continues to evaluate the recommended changes to graduation requirements by the Blue Ribbon Commission. It will help us determine these changes’ impact on the preparedness of these students for college and careers.

The results suggesting that these students were not impacted by the pandemic also stand in stark contrast to the emerging body of research, including assessment data and our own polls of parents and families, which shows the pandemic dramatically impacted students, particularly students of color and those from low-income backgrounds, through significant unfinished learning, mental health concerns, diminished in-person support for all students, and measurable decreases in college enrollment. Assessment data in particular shows that fewer than 50% of students in this cohort were deemed proficient in math on Regents exams, and only 61% scored proficient in ELA.

Additionally, it is important for the State University of New York and City University of New York to closely monitor these students to see if there is an increase in the number of students needing additional support to do entry-level college work. This will provide valuable insight into the effectiveness of altered graduation requirements.

Lastly, we are deeply concerned about the precedent set by how graduation and attendance requirements impacted this cohort. While it was necessary not to penalize students for absences during the height of the pandemic, now, as we see a rise in chronic absenteeism and a lowering of graduation standards, the state is sending a troubling message to our high school students about what it truly takes to graduate ready for success in college or a career. We must consider what the future looks like for these graduates, including the need for additional time, money, and effort to be successful in college or to take and fail the required entry-level workforce exams.

The students behind these new graduation rates are the canaries in the coal mine. We must ensure we are not implementing a system of low expectations that sets graduates up for academic and economic challenges in their futures. Students across New York work hard to earn a diploma and deserve to graduate prepared for college and the workforce.”