Graduation rate up at RFA; State notes impact of pandemic, cancellation of Regents exams


The graduation rate for Rome Free Academy’s Class of 2020 including summer graduates was 83%, up from 78% for the Class of 2019, among statewide results announced Thursday by the state Education Department.

RFA’s 2020 graduation rate through August was based on 368 students who entered ninth grade in 2016, according to the Education Department data.

The 2020 results rebounded after the 2019 data had interrupted a series of improvements in RFA’s graduation rates during the five years before that.

RFA’s results, plus the graduation rate for the Rome school district overall which differs slightly, were reviewed at the Board of Education meeting Thursday night by district Assistant Superintendent for Educational Programs Christopher Brewer. He noted the district graduation rate, which also reflects some students educated in external programs in addition to those at RFA, was 82% for 2020 compared to 75% the prior year.

Board member Joseph Mellace, terming the 7% rise a “significant jump,” asked Brewer about contributing factors. Brewer attributed it to hard work by RFA teachers and administrators including encouraging students to stay in school. He also thought the lower results for 2019 were “a little bit of an anomaly.... sometimes you do have those swings a little bit where it goes down.” Brewer additionally cited the effectiveness of an online program to help students recover academic credits. Plus as the district moves forward, he said, continued use of Chromebook devices and a “one-to-one environment” for technology will further help in “giving some options to students,” adding “I think we’re going to continue to see that number increase over the years.”

For the state overall, there also were improvements in the graduation rate, which was 84.8% compared to 83.4% in 2019. The state’s “Big 5” city school districts each rose as well, with 2020 graduation rates that included New York City, 78.8%, up from 77.3%; Buffalo, 76.3%, up from 64.7%; Rochester, 68.2%, up from 63%; Syracuse, 70.7%, up from 64.5%; Yonkers, 90.6%, up from 88%.

State Board of Regents Chancellor Lester W. Young Jr. and interim state Commissioner of Education Betty A. Rosa noted the impacts and adjustments that were caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

““When our schools were abruptly required to close last March, the board took the necessary action to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all students while providing them with the opportunity to progress academically. We thank school communities for their tireless efforts to ensure continuity of learning for all students during this unprecedented time,” Young said.

Rosa observed “our educators, school staff and families have come together to support our students throughout this pandemic....Virtually overnight, teaching was transformed from in-person to remote instruction. The shift to remote learning highlighted a digital divide across the state that must be addressed to give all students a level playing field and we remain focused on educational equity for all students.”

Due to the ongoing pandemic and related school closures, the Board of Regents and the Education Department took several regulatory actions to ensure that no student was negatively affected academically and that students who were otherwise eligible to graduate in 2020 could do so, the state announcement said.

The Regents board allowed certain students to be exempt from the requirement to take a Regents exam at the end of their course of study, provided that each student passed the course. Those exemptions applied to students in all grades 7-12 and will have an impact on the graduation rates beginning with the cohort/group of students who entered high school in 2016, plus on subsequent graduation cohorts, the announcement said.

Regents exam exemptions were a factor in the increase in the 2020 graduation rate, but the Education Department cannot say to what extent and it continues to review the data to determine full effects, according to the announcement.


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