- Associated Press - Monday, January 11, 2016

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - New York’s graduation rate increased slightly to 78.1 percent last year, and education officials said Monday the number could be even higher if students had different ways of earning a diploma.

The four-year graduation rate for students who started high school in 2011 was 1.7 percentage points higher than for the previous class, data from the state Education Department showed, but it remained below the national rate of 82 percent.

Education officials said New York students, especially those just learning English or who have disabilities, would benefit from the chance to graduate outside of the current Regents exam-based system, by following a career and occupational graduation pathway, for example, or through project-based assessments.

“This is not about changing our standard. It’s about providing other avenues for kids to show what they know so they can graduate,” Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said.

Black and Hispanic students, as well as those in high-needs districts, made gains, the 2015 graduation data showed, but continued to graduate at lower rates than white students and those in wealthier districts.

Also concerning, the department said, was the nearly 7 percent of students, about 14,590 of them, who should have been part of the class of 2015 but instead dropped out of high school. The majority were black or Hispanic and from economically disadvantaged families.

New York State United Teachers Vice President Catalina Fortino supported the idea of alternative graduation pathways but said lifting graduation rates in large, high-needs districts also would require more investment in smaller class sizes, staff and support programs.

“We know that when we provide additional support for access and opportunity in high-need districts, they graduate and contribute to the success of their communities and our country,” she said.

Last month, federal education officials put the U.S. high school graduation rate at 82 percent. Leading the way was Iowa, with a graduation rate of nearly 91 percent. The District of Columbia had the lowest rate, 61 percent.

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