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Four things to look for in Monday’s graduation rate announcement

The State Education Department will announce New York’s statewide graduation rates on Monday morning, though the numbers will be six months late for New York City.

In an unusually-timed press conference last December, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the city’s four-year graduation rates for 2013 had increased about 1 percent, to 61.3 percent (or 66 percent if students who needed an extra summer of classes are included). That also represented a nearly 15-point jump since 2005—an achievement too big for the outgoing mayor not to use to burnish his legacy before leaving office.

Still, the state’s announcement will include additional insights about the city’s ability to push its high school students past the finish line. Namely, it will include the all-important college and career readiness rate, an imperfect but helpful measurement for knowing what students are prepared to do when they leave high school.

It will also include school-by-school graduation rates, compare the city to other urban school districts, and provide a first look at how the de Blasio administration will spin the numbers to support his own policy agenda.

Here are four things to watch for:

How does New York City compare to the rest of the state and to its other urban districts?

When it suited him, Bloomberg played up the comparison between New York City’s graduation rates and those of other urban districts in the state. When the numbers didn’t add up, like in 2012, Bloomberg said the city’s flatter graduation rate change was impressive in the face of higher standards.

New York City’s graduation rates are far below the statewide average of 75 percent, but among the state’s “big five” urban districts, the city lags behind only Yonkers, which has a 66 percent graduation rate. The others are Buffalo, Syracuse, and Rochester, considerably poorer cities whose graduation rates have ranged between 48 percent and 43 percent.

How will the de Blasio administration react?

When he was running for mayor last year, Bill de Blasio castigated the city’s 60 percent graduation rates. During and after the campaign, de Blasio has said that expanding access to prekindergarten and after-school programs would “provide the foundation young people need to finish school and succeed.”

Now that he’s made it to City Hall, he is likely to face additional pressure to offer nearer-term solutions for improving a school system in which four in 10 students don’t graduate on time.

For now, de Blasio has ruled out school closures, which Bloomberg regularly cited as the single most important policy behind the city’s graduation improvement from 51 percent in 2001 to 61 percent in 2013. But the city has offered hints at what its immediate efforts to lift graduation rates will look like: providing some high schools with perennially low graduation rates with extra resources and attention, while converting other schools into “community schools” with access to health and other services.

How do college and career readiness rates compare to graduation rates?

The state delayed tying higher Common Core standards to graduation requirements until the class of 2022, giving officials a prolonged buffer from the kind of criticism that followed steep drops in reading and math proficiency rates when states tests became Common Core-aligned.

But no one disputes that graduation rates statewide say little about what students actually know when they finish high school. Education officials say the college and career readiness rate, which shows how many students earn at least a 75 on the English Regents exam and an 80 on a math Regents exam, has become an equally important metric because it is indicative of a student’s likelihood of persisting in college or succeeding in a skilled job.

Like graduation rates, college and career readiness rates have improved slightly over time. Still, just 22 percent of all students in the city graduated with qualifying scores in 2012, with only 11 percent of black students and 13 percent of Hispanic students hitting those targets.

De Blasio has often referred to the city’s low college and career readiness rate as an example of the city school system’s ongoing failures, and cites it as a reason to shake up the school system’s “status quo.” He’s mostly talked about those numbers in reference to his pre-K and after-school expansion plans, so it will be notable if he identifies any high school-oriented policies in his response to tomorrow’s release.

What do the graduation achievement gaps look like?

Though Bloomberg noted the disparities in the data in December, the continued gap between graduation rates of traditionally underserved students and their peers will be again a focus on Monday, especially for a Board of Regents that has crafted a policy agenda to narrow those gaps.

According to the figures the city released in December, black and Hispanic students’ graduation rates both climbed since 2012, but both rates are roughly 20 percentage points lower than the rates of white and Asian students. Students with disabilities saw their graduation rate rise 7 points over last 2012, while the rate for English language learners slipped by nearly 2 points.

But even those numbers mask a larger disparity within the city school system. In an analysis of the school-by-school graduation rates last year, the United Federation of Teachers found that just 10 percent of schools produced nearly half of the city’s college-ready graduates.

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