Jan. 19, 2012, 6:53 p.m.
The latest statistic bedeviling Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s efforts to show progress in the city’s public schools during his tenure is a startling, but well-known one: one out of every four students who entered high school in 2007, and graduated four years later, was not ready for college-level work.
Concern about the validity of the city’s increasing graduation rate, which the mayor often points to as one of his greatest accomplishments, grew last year after state education officials revealed that most students were graduating unprepared for college.
City officials followed with their own data, which was just as grim: 75 percent of graduates had Regents and SAT scores low enough to suggest they would need to take remedial classes in college.
On Thursday, the City Council seemed to awaken to these figures. In a joint hearing of the higher education and K-12 education committees, council members asked Department of Education officials how it was possible to assign meaning to an increasing graduation rate if a majority of students remain unprepared for college.
Although the hearing was billed as a time to put difficult questions to city officials, it lost much of its steam after Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the Board of Regents, canceled her plans to speak. Dr. Tisch initially forced the city to confront the college readiness numbers, calling them “useful truths” that would push the city to improve.
City education officials defended their progress in preparing students for college, saying that if the measurement had been in existence in 2005, only 16 percent of students would have been considered college-ready. In 2011, about 25 percent met the standard.
“Everyone is looking at a more rigorous standard they have not looked at before,” said Shael Polakow-Suransky, the city’s chief academic officer. Whereas it was previously considered satisfactory for students to pass the Regents with a score of 65, education officials now believe students need at least a 75 on the English Regents and an 80 on the math to place out of remedial classes.
Mr. Polakow-Suransky said the public schools “are very successful up to a certain point. Getting to the 65 is a powerful accomplishment. Getting to the 75 or 80 is the next step, and they haven’t gotten there yet.”
Deputy Chief Academic Officer Josh Thomases said the city has also formed a partnership with the Goddard Riverside Community Center to train all guidance and college counselors over the next three years in encouraging students to think about and apply to college.
The president of the city’s teachers union, Michael Mulgrew, said the city’s college-ready numbers indicate that the city has not truly ended social promotion, as the mayor has claimed.
“By the time students get to high school, they’re grade levels behind, especially in literacy,” he said. “We now leave back almost no one behind.”
Eric Addams, a member of New York Communities for Change, the community organization formerly known as Acorn, said he was one of those seniors who was not ready for college. A graduate of Frederick Douglass Academy, a public high school in Harlem, he went on to a private college in Massachusetts where he struggled to keep pace in his math courses, he said. He is now a senior at Borough of Manhattan Community College.
“They’re saying they’re going to prepare you for college, so they should prepare you in all ways: academically and socially,” he said. “They weren’t really even preparing us to handle the course load.”
Anna M. Phillips is a member of the SchoolBook staff. Follow her on Twitter @annamphillips.