Racial Test Gap Persists, State Figures Show

Elissa Gootman
March 10, 2005

ore of New York State's high school students are taking and passing the Regents exams now required for graduation, education officials said yesterday. But the achievement gap between white and minority students, they said, remains troubling.

Although 81 percent of white students who started high school in the fall of 2000 graduated in June, as scheduled, only 45.4 percent of black students and 42 percent of Hispanic students did.


And although 88.8 percent of the white students who graduated passed the English Regents exam with a score of at least 55 out of 100, only 64.2 percent of the black students and 59.3 percent of the Hispanic students did.

"Essentially what you're seeing here is a gap in student achievement," the state education commissioner, Richard P. Mills, said. "The minority four-year graduation rates are too low, unacceptably low."

Mr. Mills spoke as he released report cards for schools statewide, an annual ritual that sends parents scrambling to see how their children's schools match up with others statewide. The data released yesterday (available at www.nysed.gov) include details not available in December, when Mr. Mills released preliminary statewide information. The earlier data showed that students who took the Regents exams passed them at an overwhelming rate, but that many students, particularly in New York City, did not even get to the point of taking the tests, often because they did not pass the related classes.

Yesterday's data made clear that that trend holds within racial subgroups as well. In a particularly pronounced example, 35.3 percent of black students scheduled to graduate in June did not take the Regents exam in United States history and government, a figure that dwarfs the 4.6 percent who failed it.

Mr. Mills used these numbers among other figures to rebut charges that the more rigorous Regents exams would prompt students to drop out. (Last year's graduates were the second class to be subject to increasingly rigorous graduation standards, which require a score of at least 55 on five Regents exams for a local diploma.)

"One of the things that people said about the Regents policy was that the Regents exams would force people to drop out," Mr. Mills said. "That can't be what's happened. They didn't take the exam."

But Ann Cook, co-chairwoman of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, a coalition of schools that are fighting Mr. Mills to retain their use of alternative assessments to the Regents exams, said the results proved no such point.

"What happens to students is they drop out because the curriculum is excessively focused on test-taking," Ms. Cook said. "They are bored or they get discouraged. This is a common phenomenon, and the commissioner is mistaken to attempt to remove responsibility from the high-stakes tests policy."

The data also showed a rise in high school graduation. In New York City, 43,074 students graduated from high school last year, up from 36,606 in 2003. Elsewhere in the state, 110,128 students graduated last year, up from 107,212 in 2003, an increase that Mr. Mills said outpaced the rise in total high school enrollment.

Joel I. Klein, the New York City schools chancellor, pointed with pride to the size of last year's graduating class and to city data showing that 48.8 percent of black students scheduled to graduate in June did so, up from 44.4 percent in 2002.

"There is plenty more work to do to increase all these rates," he said in a statement, "but we are moving in the right direction and seeing progress."