New analysis finds disparities in graduation pathways for historically under-served groups of students

Press Release

Civil rights, education, parent, business organizations highlight solutions through course access equity and strengthening graduation measures

NEW YORK – School districts across the state are disproportionately relying on Local diplomas and the Career Development & Occupational Studies (CDOS) pathway — which relies on a credential that was designed to show readiness for entry-level employment — for historically under-served groups of students, and especially for Black students, according to an analysis released today by The New York Equity Coalition.

The statewide civil rights, education, parent, and business coalition examined three aspects of the 2018-19 high school graduation rate data: the use of alternative “4+1” pathways for Regents and Local diplomas, the overall role of Local diplomas, and whether all groups of students have equitable access to advanced opportunities like the Advanced Regents diploma.

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

Among the findings:

  • FINDING 1: Black and Latinx students, students who are low-income, and English learners were disproportionately tracked into the CDOS graduation pathway that was not designed to lead to college readiness, but rather entry-level employment. High schools used the CDOS as a diploma pathway for Black students at 4.3 times the rate of White students, for students who are low-income at 2.9 times the rate of students who are not low-income, and for English learners at 3 times the rate of students who are not English learners.
  • FINDING 2: All types of school districts disproportionately used the CDOS for historically under-served groups of students — and Rochester serves as the most troubling example. Rochester — a district with 1,315 total graduates in 2018-19 — awarded more CDOS “4+1” diplomas to Black students than all of New York City, with 57,035 graduates. Among Black students graduating in Rochester, 45.3% used the CDOS pathway.
  • FINDING 3: An increase in Local diplomas was responsible for 62% of the state’s 5-year graduation rate gains, and the increase in Local diplomas exceeded the increase in Regents diplomas in nearly all types of school districts and regions outside of New York City.
  • FINDING 4: Graduation rate data highlights stark disparities in Advanced Regents diplomas — raising questions about opportunity, access, support, and expectations. Over the last five years, the Advanced Regents diploma rate increased for White students 1.5 times faster than for Black students, and for students who are not low-income 2.1 times faster than for students who are low-income. For English learners, the Advanced Regents diploma rate actually declined over this period.

Local diplomas can serve as a safety net for students who otherwise struggle on exit exams. Likewise, “4+1” diploma pathways appropriately recognize that one size does not fit all for high school graduation, and that students should have multiple ways to demonstrate their readiness for college, careers, and active citizenship.

But by the same token, the 2018-19 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.

These issues are especially relevant as the Board of Regents begins its important review of high school graduation measures. The Regents’ plan to review graduation measures is a thoughtful and deliberate step that can ensure that all students are held to high expectations and participate in a wide range of learning opportunities — including gatekeeper and advanced courses — that help them demonstrate that they are prepared when they graduate.

The New York Equity Coalition has identified specific policies to advance both of these essential agendas:

4 policies to improve equitable access to advanced courses in 2020

  • Improve access to advanced courses by investing in more AP, IB, and dual enrollment courses in high-need districts and expanding access to school counselors who are culturally responsive;
  • Support parents and students by requiring school districts to provide every family with clear and concise information, in multiple languages, about the courses their child can take, including the benefits of enrolling in advanced courses and the support available;
  • Eliminate barriers to enrollment by enabling automatic enrollment in the next available advanced course for students who demonstrate readiness using one of multiple measures, with families always having the right to decline;
  • Eliminate enrollment disparities by ensuring that any school or school district that has disparities in advanced course enrollment is taking real steps to eliminate these disparities.

4 principles for the state’s graduation measures review process

  • Maintain and expand multiple pathways that actually prepare students for college, careers, and civic engagement. This could include recognizing college-ready scores on the SAT, ACT, etc. Diploma measures should also incorporate professional skills for all students (i.e., acknowledging that students need to be not college- or career-ready, but rather college- and career-ready).
  • Ensure that the state sets high expectations for all students and does not create a “second-tier” diploma. All groups of students must have the realistic expectation and opportunity to pursue all graduation pathways, with no disparities by race/ethnicity, income status, English learner status, or disparities for other historically under-served groups of students.
  • Update course and credit requirements based on real-world expectations. Course requirements should include four years of math and four years of science (including computer science as an option). All students should be expected to leave high school with college credit (from AP, IB, dual enrollment, P-TECH, etc.) and/or work-based learning experience. Automatic enrollment in advanced courses should ensure that all students can pursue higher level coursework without unnecessary barriers.
  • Adequately resourced systems of student support should accompany the state’s graduation expectations. This should include school counseling that is culturally responsive.

“In an increasingly global economy, job seekers are competing on a global level. Our education system needs to prepare the next generation for a fast-paced, competitive and ever-changing job market,” said Heather Briccetti, Esq, president & CEO of The Business Council of New York State. “What that means in practical terms is that schools should have high expectations for all students. Parents and students need information to understand the value of advanced coursework and how, while challenging, it will better prepare students for college, career, and success in life.”

“The Committee for Hispanic Children & Families (CHCF) is committed to breaking down systemic barriers that maintain overwhelming inequalities in access to opportunity for New York’s historically underserved communities and students,” said Ramon Peguero, Esq., president and CEO of the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families. Along with our partners in The New York Equity Coalition, we wish to draw attention to the concerning data trends evident in The State of the Diploma.  Disparities in access to rigorous course offerings and to diploma pathways that prepare students for college, career, and civic readiness for Latino students, Black students, low-income students, and English Language Learners raise many questions about the expectations, pathways, and opportunities that our students experience.  Every student, regardless of their race, ethnicity, language, ability or income should be met with high expectations, supports, and guidance in achieving their educational and life goals.” 

“Parents want nothing more than opportunities for their children to be successful in the future, and all students deserve to graduate from high school prepared for college, careers, and active citizenship – whichever path they choose,” said Samuel L. Radford III, past president of the District-Parent Coordinating Council of Buffalo and co-chairperson of We the Parents. But right now too many of our children – particularly students of color and those from low-income backgrounds – are being tracked into pathways that stand to limit their opportunities once they graduate from high school. New York must take steps to ensure that all students have access to the programs that will put them on the path to a successful future.” 

“Educational equity requires that all students have the support to succeed in programs that prepare them for college, careers, and active citizenship,” said Ian Rosenblum, executive director of The Education Trust–New York. The Board of Regents’ review of the graduation standards is a thoughtful and deliberate step that can advance this agenda. In addition, there are immediate steps that state leaders should take to improve course access equity.”

“All students should have access to the high-quality graduation pathway of their choosing that best sets them up for success in college, a career, and civic life,” said Paula L. White, executive director of Educators for Excellence-New York. Unfortunately, our students of color are robbed of a real choice when schools steer them early on towards pathways that later make other attractive options virtually unattainable – options that may in fact be ideally suited for a college or career that best fits the student. We call on the state to take action and correct this disturbing trend.”

“The success of our community in Westchester County depends on all students leaving high school with the skills they need to be successful in college, careers, and active citizenship,” said Sorraya Sampson, president and CEO of the Urban League of Westchester CountyBut right now, too many students are being tracked into pathways that were not designed to meet today’s most demanding workforce needs. New York has an opportunity to shift this narrative and ensure that all students have an opportunity to participate in programs that will prepare them for a bright future.”

Visit to read the full report and learn more about other critical equity issues.