April 5, 2011
An audit by the state comptroller found that the city might have underreported its dropout rate by reclassifying dropouts as “discharges,” or students who have moved out of the district. But new procedures actually make it extremely burdensome for schools to classify students as discharged, school officials say.
Until this year, high schools could classify a student as discharged to another state or city as long as the student provided proof of address that was confirmed by two people. That meant the student was removed from his original school’s roster without hurting its graduation rate.
But now the city requires city schools to prove that a school elsewhere requested transcripts of students they say are discharges, not dropouts. School administrators say this requirement presents a mountain of new paperwork for overworked personnel and, sometimes, real difficulty, as transfer students often encounter complications enrolling in new schools.
Students might take a long time to find a school in their new home. They might have a hard time navigating an interstate paperwork shuffle. Their new school might not require a transcript. Or they might be kept out of out-of-state schools altogether because of their disciplinary records or language needs, according to Rhonda Hugel, assistant principal at Lower East Side Preparatory High School, which serves a large Chinese immigrant population. “Who knows if these states have the resources for the kids,” she said.
The stakes are high. If schools don’t get sufficient documentation from a student’s new school within 20 days, he could be counted as a dropout, and the school’s graduation rate could fall.
“[The new rule] puts too much weight on school systems,” said Susan Vaughn, secretary at the Global Enterprise High School in the Bronx. If, as frequently occurs, the family does not provide information before leaving the state, then the school has to work with school districts in other cities and states to track down proof of enrollment. “It takes time away from the kids who are here,” Vaughn said.
Pushing back against the state comptroller’s audit, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky argued that many students really do leave the city with their families and enroll in school elsewhere — and that schools can’t always know where they end up.
“When a student stops attending school, there is a legitimate, reasonable and necessary distinction to be made between truants and dropouts living within New York City, on the one hand — and students whose families have left New York City — in many cases without prior notification to the school, on the other hand,” he said.
The distinction highlights a disagreement between city and state officials over the reporting requirements, which appear in the city’s own regulations but which Polakow-Suransky called an “unfair burden on individual schools.”
While no one has yet made the claim that the dropout rate might itself be inflated, department officials emphasized that the comptroller “only audited discharges in one direction” and that some students labeled as dropouts might actually have left the city and enrolled in a school elsewhere.
“There was no review to determine whether some students coded as dropouts may have met the criteria for a non-dropout discharge code,” said Matthew Mittenthal, a DOE spokesman.