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Policy Brief Reveals Inequity in New York’s Diploma Pathways to College

While analyzing New York’s high school education system, a new policy brief found disparities in the diploma pathways to college among low-income and underrepresented groups of students, compared to their White peers.

The New York Equity Coalition’s policy brief, “The State of the Diploma,” looked at the use of the Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) “4+1” pathway and the Local Diploma, studying whether all students had access and opportunities to earn advanced diplomas.

“New York’s high school graduation rate data raises significant flags from an equity perspective because schools are disproportionately relying on career-focused pathways, rather than college- and career-focused pathways, for historically under-served groups of students,” said Ian Rosenblum, executive director of The Education Trust New York.

CDOS credentials were established to demonstrate a student’s readiness for entry-level employment. However, the research found that New York high schools were “disproportionately and overwhelmingly relying” on CDOS for underserved student populations.

The credential was used as a diploma pathway for Black students at 4.3 times the rate of White Students and for Latinx students at 1.9 times the rate of White students. Additionally, low-income students earned CDOS at 2.9 times the rate of those with higher incomes, the report said.

At 45.3%, schools in Rochester had the highest use of the CDOS pathway for Black students. Comparably, 21.2% of Black students in Syracuse, 14.4% in Buffalo and 0% in Yonkers used the CDOS pathway program.

Additionally, high schools in urban and suburban districts were 2.3 times more likely to use CDOS for Black students and 1.4 times more likely for Latinx students than for White students. For average-need districts,  schools were 2.1 times more likely to use CDOS for Black students and 1.5 times more likely for Latinx students than for White students, according to the policy brief.

Ian RosenblumIan Rosenblum

New York schools were also less likely to provide underrepresented groups of students the chance to use the Arts  “4+1” pathway, with only 513 students earning the diploma in the state. White students earned this pathway at 5.2 times the rate of Latinx students and 2.7 times the rate of Black students, according to the brief.

Another area highlighted in the policy brief was the use and reliance on Local Diplomas. The state’s overall graduation rate increased by 3.1% over the last five years to a high of 83.4%, the research said.

From 2014-2015 to 2018-19, the 3.1% increase in overall graduation rate consisted of a 1.9% increase in Local Diploma rates and a 1.2% increase for Advanced Regents diploma rates. Local Diplomas were responsible for 62% of the state’s overall high school graduation rate increase in this five-year period. For low-income students, the increase of Local Diplomas was responsible for 64% of total graduation rate gains and while only 20% of gains were for non low-income students, according to the policy brief.

Lastly, the report found inequities with the type and number of students who earned Advanced Regents diplomas. According to the policy brief, in 2018-2019, 33.6% of students in the state of New York graduated with Advanced Regents diplomas. However, of those who earned Advanced Regents diplomas, 47.3% were White students, 12.1% were Black students and 16.9% were Latinx students. Additionally, only 19.6% of low-income students earned this type of diploma.

Within the last five years, White students earned an Advanced Regents diploma 1.5 times faster than Black students. Additionally, in five regions of New York, which together enrolled one in four Black graduates during the 2018-2019 school year, the Advanced Regents diploma graduation rates declined for Black students, according to the research.

To address the inequity issues within New York high schools, the policy brief recommended that the state invest in more Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) and dual enrollment courses in higher-need districts and provide more support for students and parents. Additionally, New York should also eliminate barriers such as implementing automatic enrollment in advanced courses for students who demonstrate readiness, the brief said.

“All students should leave high school prepared for college, careers and active citizenship,” said Rosenblum.  “But some pathways may be less aligned to that goal, potentially limiting opportunities available to students once they leave high school.”

Now, with the potential of school closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, Rosenblum says he’s concerned with the possibility of rising dropout rates for “vulnerable students.”

“That is why it is so important that states prioritize academic and non-academic support and continuity for students now, conduct outreach in multiple languages to continuously engage students and their families without relying exclusively on the Internet and plan now for extended learning time and other interventions when schools reopen,” he said.

Sarah Wood can be reached at [email protected].

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