The Great Divide in High School College Readiness Rates

Edwize Blog

Jun. 27, 2013
by Rhonda Rosenberg

10 percent of the schools produce nearly half the college-ready graduates.

Last week the city announced that 22.2% of students from the high school Class of 2012 met the state’s college-ready standard, up from 21.1% for the Class of 2011.  What the announcement didn’t say was that this already weak college-readiness rate was inflated by a small group of schools that contribute a disproportionate number of students to the city’s college-ready percentage.

The differences between schools were so great that the city’s overall college-readiness rate of 22.2% did not represent the reality for even most city schools.  In fact, only a quarter of the city’s high schools had a college-ready rate that was 22% or better.

Here’s one way to look at the numbers:

Out of 352 total schools for which data are available, the top 35 schools — 10% of the total – graduated nearly half of the city’s 16,600 total of college-ready students, boosting the city’s overall college-ready figure and obscuring the lower rates achieved by the overwhelming majority of remaining schools.  As the chart below shows, at these schools 73% of the graduating cohort is college-ready compared to only 16% for the bottom schools.  The 35 schools that skewed results include the likes of Stuyvesant, Bronx High School of Science, Brooklyn Tech and Townsend Harris as well as a few neighborhood schools like Francis Lewis High School and Midwood High School.

The distortion shows up most dramatically when you split the schools in half.  The top 50% of schools contributed almost all the students — 15,600 students — to the city’s college-ready total of 16,668.  The 170 schools in the bottom half of the rankings, though they have an estimated 22,500 students in their senior cohort, contributed a total of only 1,035 pupils to the total college-ready ranks. The average college-ready rate for this group was less than 5%.

A tale of two systems - distribution college readiness

The huge differences in college readiness by school means that the standard mechanism for calculating the city’s rate doesn’t tell us much about the reality of New York City high schools.  Many of the top schools have a very stable college-ready rate and have been in the top 10% of schools for the past three years.

When the DOE reports on the city’s college-ready rate, it should take these things into consideration and report in the most transparent way.  For 2012, this could have been accomplished if the DOE had said the following:

  1. While the city’s overall college-ready rate is 22.2%, only 25% of the city’s high schools achieved this rate.
  2. The city’s college-ready rate of 22.2% drops to 16% if the top 10 percent of schools for college-ready students (approximately 35 schools) are excluded from the calculation.
  3. If you analyze the results by dividing the 352 schools in half by college-readiness rates, the difference becomes even more marked.  The overwhelming number of college-ready students come from the top 50% of schools in the college-readiness rankings.  The schools in the bottom half of the rankings manage to produce only about 1,000 college-ready students – less than 5% of the system’s college-ready total.


The college-readiness rate was created by the NYS Education Department to identify high school students who have graduated and who are academically ready for college-level math and English courses.  To be deemed college ready, a student must pass the NYS Math and English Regents with an 80 and 75 or better, respectively.  This benchmark was set based on the experience that the City University of New York (CUNY) had with students who attended NYC public high schools.  Students who fail to meet the standard are required to enroll in remedial math and English courses or pass special exams that allow them to test out of remedial courses

There were 406 high schools with students in the 2012 graduating class. Data for 54 of these schools, however, was not published.  The DOE withheld the information on these schools in order to comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

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