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RCSD grad rate improves despite inequities 

The Rochester City School District’s graduation rate jumped to 51.9 percent in June 2017, according Wednesday’s press release from State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. That's a 4.2 percent increase from the 47.7 percent graduation rate in June 2016, the second-highest increase of New York's Big Five school districts.   
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If the students who graduated in August are included, the RCSD’s 2017 graduation rate climbed to nearly 57 percent.

While graduation rates are watched closely, Elia released another statement last week that may be even more revealing. The SED identified more than 150 schools around the state that are called “reward schools.” Six schools in the Rochester area made the list: Brighton High School, Caledonia-Mumford High School, Honeoye Falls-Lima Senior High School, Penfield Senior High School, and Pittsford-Mendon High School.

Reward schools are among the state’s top 20 percent of high performing schools. Their test scores in math and English have been the highest for two years in a row and at least 95 percent of the schools’ students participated in state exams. The schools also showed success across all student groups, such as low-income students and students with disabilities.

Reward schools also have something else in common: their students mostly come from middle and upper income communities. While they may have students from poorer families, those students do not make up anywhere near the majority. And in most instances, the reward schools in the Rochester area have relatively small student populations, good facilities, and plenty of after school amenities.

Success, whether it’s in the form reward schools or RCSD’s modest improvement in graduation rates, deserves recognition. But it’s hard to ignore the  obvious inequities between high performing, mostly suburban schools, and their struggling urban counterparts.

There are no reward schools in the RCSD. It has instead a sizeable number of focus and priority schools, those that the state has identified as failing. Most city school students come from low-income households and the majority of them qualify for free and reduced meals.

Even with the RCSD’s improving graduation rate, it remains the lowest performing school district of the Big Five, and one of the lowest performing in the country. But for those who continue to say that poverty is not a factor in student achievement, the SED’s list of reward schools at minimum seems to suggest otherwise.

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