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A student signs his name at a high school fair at New Heights Middle School

A student signs his name at a high school fair at New Heights Middle School

Monica Disare

Extreme academic sorting brings vastly different graduation rates in New York City high schools

High school graduation rates vary by about 38 percentage points among New York City schools, depending on the school’s admissions method. That’s according to a report released Friday by Measure of America, an arm of the nonprofit Social Science Research Council.

Those schools also differ starkly in the race and ethnicity of students served, according to the report, titled “Who Graduates?”

“This study shows that the high school choice process is working well for a portion of the student body — those who apply and are admitted to the more selective high schools,” the report states. “But it is not working for far too many New York City teenagers. Our analysis shows clearly that certain groups of students are at high risk for not graduating in four years.”

The on-time graduation rate at educational option schools is below 60 percent across the city, according to Measure of America. Ed-opt schools, as they are known, are designed to admit students with a range of academic abilities. But, facing stiff competition for high-performing students, a Chalkbeat analysis has shown that the schools often enroll mostly struggling students.

Limited unscreened schools had a graduation rate of about 68 percent. Though limited unscreened schools are not supposed to use any information beyond attendance at an open house or high school fair to make admissions decisions, Chalkbeat found that some schools collect survey information or ask students to complete short answer questions.

More than half of all black and Hispanic students enrolled in ed-opt or limited unscreened schools, according to the Measure of America report.

Meanwhile, the most selective high schools, which base admissions on the results of the Specialized High School Admissions Test, had an average graduation rate above 97 percent. Those schools tend to enroll mostly white and Asian students, according to the report. Screened schools, which admit students based on academic measures, had an average graduation rate above 86 percent.

The city’s education department took issue with the study’s methodology and stressed its work to support schools with everything from additional guidance counselors to more Advanced Placement courses.

“We’ll continue to work to ensure all students and families have access to high-quality high schools,” education spokesman Will Mantell wrote in an email.

The study was done in collaboration with the New York Times, with the results featured in a story that examines the impacts of the city’s purely choice-based high school admissions system.

The result, as Chalkbeat chronicled recently, is extreme academic segregation. Fueling the sorting are hazy admissions rules that can benefit families with the time and resources to navigate the process and jump through hoops like attending school visits during working hours.

“Academic screens are a mechanism for sorting the students who have had educational privilege into places where they continue to get educational privilege,” Megan Moskop, who has served as a high school admissions coordinator at M.S. 324 in Washington Heights, told Chalkbeat recently. “And the students who don’t have that privilege continue not to have it.”

City officials have said they are not interested in expanding the number of schools that use screening methods to admit students. Mayor Bill de Blasio and education department officials also say they are working on a “bigger vision” plan to address segregation in the city’s schools.

Chalkbeat reporter Monica Disare contributed to this report.