Among low-performing school districts, about 45 percent of the superintendents reported an increase in dropouts. Most average- and high-performing school districts reported no change in the dropout rate, according to the survey of superintendents and principals throughout New York state, conducted by John W. Sipple, Cornell assistant professor of education, and Kieran Killeen, an assistant professor at the University of Vermont. The survey included administrators from across upstate New York state.
The Regents' diploma is now the standard for high school students in the state. Because the Regents no longer allow school districts to offer local diplomas, students must either pass a series of Regents courses and exams, or obtain a General Equivalency Development (GED) certification, or drop out.
The number of students opting for a GED is increasing in half of the state's school districts, the survey found. This trend is serving as a pressure release on the system, as students enrolled in GED programs are reported as transfers and not high school dropouts.
"The Board of Regents must decide if they consider the GED option to be a legitimate alternative to the Regents high school diploma," says Sipple. "If the answer is 'yes,' then no changes are warranted. If the board is not satisfied that participation in a GED program is an acceptable alternative, then the board must make changes to reduce the number of students who are choosing this option."
Since the new Regents Learning and Gradation Standards were instituted, one of every two school districts has changed their practices for including special-education students. Among those who made changes, 97 percent of districts are now including more special education students in core academic classes.
"This is important because, although inclusion has been around for years, the definition of inclusion in New York state appears to have changed," says Killeen.
Nearly all superintendents indicated that more Academic Intervention Service (AIS) programs for underachieving students are being offered in addition to regular academic classes. This results in additional hours of instruction for underachieving students. Most of the superintendents and principals reported that academic intervention improves student learning and increases a student's ability to pass Regents examinations.
"Given the additional staffing for academic-intervention programming, it is critical to monitor where staffing cuts are made in times of fiscal stress. It is relatively easy to add AIS staff when budgets allow," says Sipple. "But how districts will allocate staff and programming for underachieving students in times of budget cuts remains to be seen."
About three-quarters of school superintendents indicated that strategies for taking tests were taught within their districts. Of these, 69 percent have introduced or expanded test-taking activities in response to the Regents standards. Half of these superintendents believe that teaching such strategies enhances student learning, while 98 percent believe the strategies are effective for improving a student's ability to pass Regents exams.
The survey was funded by a grant from the New York State Education Finance Research Consortium.
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