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 Article of Interest - Statistics

Students Ousted for Stats?
by Ellen Yan, Newsday.com, November 21, 2002
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Thousands of struggling students were discharged by high school administrators more concerned about their own job evaluations than the students' futures, say some public officials and children's advocates.

An estimated 55,000 students were discharged last year, some for legitimate reasons such as cutting school or turning 21 years old, but many were pushed out to keep them from dragging down school graduation rates and percentages of passing test scores, according to Robin Brown, co-chair of the Chancellor's Parent Advisory Council, educators and other children's advocates studying the emerging issue. The critics, including parents, say many students could have remained but were encouraged to seek a general equivalency diploma.

The discharged are believed to include immigrants who have trouble speaking English, students with special education problems, and others who fell behind on credits needed to graduate, according to parents and advocates tracking the issue. Many were black or Hispanic boys, ages 16 and 17, they said.

The problem is drawing attention, with one study to be released today by the city's public advocate's office and the nonprofit Advocates for Children, Inc.

"It's more expedient for the school system to push them out than try to educate them," contended Jacob Morris, director of the Society for Equitable Education, a nonprofit advocate group in Manhattan that is studying the issue.

"I was taking up space - that was the answer they gave me," Jean Remarque, 18, told Newsday after having been discharged by his Brooklyn public high school last year, when he was a junior.

The dean made it happen, he contended. "She was forcing me to sign up for GED," Remarque said. "She was telling my mother, 'He's smart. Let him go get a GED because he can get into college by summertime.' "

Discharged students are viewed as transfers, and don't affect the percentages that can be important to an administrator's job evaluation.

The problem has grown, critics say, since the school system is now offering bonuses to administrators for improved statistical results, such as the percentage of students passing the Regents exams and the graduation rate.

Two years ago the issue began raising red flags among parents of displaced teenagers and professional advocates, when the problem ballooned due to the introduction of higher test standards and an increase in the credits required for graduation. Students began flooding adult education and GED programs, quadrupling the waiting lists in some cases.

"We always had students dropping out and coming to us, but now, students are being referred by guidance counselors and attendance teachers, and they come with their referral slips," said Edith Gnanadass, deputy executive director of the Turning Point/Discipleship Outreach Ministry in Brooklyn, which works with discharged students. "They were being pushed out rather than dropping out."

After receiving complaints from parents, Brown sent a memo recently to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, urging him to look into the matter.

"Schools are there to provide students the opportunity to meet the standard requirements in order to receive a high school diploma," Klein spokesman David Chai said. "Offering anything less is unacceptable, and the chancellor will not support any policy that does otherwise and will review any data that doesn't support the core mission."

A top Klein aide who has read the study being released today said the estimate of 55,000 students discharged last year is misleading because it's unclear how many of them were transfers to other schools.

The principals' union and the teachers' union, which represents guidance counselors, declined to comment.

Some parents believe the problem is largely tied to evaluations. "If you're being evaluated based on the graduation rate and you have a merit system based on the graduation rate, there is no incentive to help students who are having difficulties," Brown said.

Advised to get a GED three years ago, Genevieve Salley, 18, spent a half-year out of school working out family problems before the Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day High School accepted her.

"I don't think GED should be an option if you're old enough to be in school," Salley said. "People will look at you differently if you have a high school diploma rather than a GED."

 

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