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N.Y. Regents Order Schools To Lower Their Dropout Rates

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Public and private high schools in New York with chronically high dropout rates could lose both state and federal aid and their right to grant diplomas under a program last week approved by the state's Board of Regents.

Adoption of the plan makes New York the first state in the nation to link minimum student-retention levels with school accreditation, according to an official at the Education Commission of the States.

Two years ago, New York set a national precedent when it stopped accrediting high schools in which less than 85 percent of the school's seniors successfully complete all state minimum-competency requirements, as measured by standardized tests.

The dropout-retention plan, according to Arnold Bloom, a spokesman for the education department, was developed to complement the minimum-competency test requirement. The new regulation, he said, would discourage schools from "pushing out" underachievers in order to improve the school's overall success rate in the competency testing.

The new measure, which was approved on a one-year trial basis, would require schools with a dropout rate of 12 percent or more to present a specific plan to resolve the problem to the state commissioner of education.

According to Mr. Bloom, schools with a rate of between 10 percent and 12 percent would be required to develop a plan only if their dropout rate for the previous three years showed an upswing. If the schools fail to develop an acceptable improvement plan, he said, they could lose their accreditation.

One in Four Dropout Nationally

The National Center for Education Statistics recently reported that 25 percent of the nation's high-school students drop out before graduation and that percentage has remained relatively stable for the last decade.

Approximately one-quarter of New York's high schools are expected to have a dropout rate of 10 percent or less this year, according to state education department estimates. Another 12 percent of the schools should display a 12-percent dropout rate, and only 5 percent should have a rate higher than 15 percent.

Those figures, and the fact that New York schools cannot compel children to attend school after their 16th birthday, indicate that the new program will pose a difficult problem for a substantial number of school districts, said education department spokesman Christopher Carpenter.

However, he added, "The factors that cause a child to drop out are present at a much earlier age. The school's retention rate isn't a measure of what happens in any given year, but rather what's happening to that child during the entire four years he's in high school."

Program Is Criticized

The Regents, Mr. Bloom said, will review the program's results in September 1982 to determine whether the new retention standards are too harsh or too lax.

Several teachers' groups assailed the new program, saying the approach to solving the dropout program was misdirected.

Thomas Y. Hobart, president of the New York State United Teachers, said that to require schools to implement dropout-retention plans would stretch already inadequate state funds even further.

"Schools would be forced to take money from education programs to fund retention plans," he said. "Then, even if the plan were sucessful, the retained students would be left with a depreciated academic program."

The state should not blame schools for a problem beyond their control and force them to reallocate scarce resources at a time when they can least afford it, Mr. Hobart said. He suggested that the Regents ask the state legislature to adopt a program of categorical grants for schools with retention problems.

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