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Tougher N.Y.C. Requirements Seen Spurring Gains

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Thousands more high school freshmen in New York City public schools took and passed college-preparatory mathematics and science courses as a result of tougher graduation requirements put into effect last year for the class of 1998.

The huge increases included minority students who traditionally have been underrepresented in what New York calls its regents-level courses.

However, along with the rise in enrollment in these more rigorous courses came an increase in the failure rate.

Forty-two percent of the students failed the math course, and 25 percent flunked science for the test given last fall. In fall 1993, 37 percent failed in math, and 13 percent failed the science course.

In releasing the progress report of the district's high school math-and-science initiative last week, Chancellor Ramon C. Cortines acknowledged the decline in the passing rate.

"We could have found all sorts of reasons not to take on this program--the children are not ready, middle schools do not prepare them sufficiently for regents courses, we do not have enough resources to give the necessary support," Mr. Cortines said.

"But the truth is, you have to start from where you are and work with what you have," he said.

"The worst thing we can do for our students, the most insidious way of cheating them, the surest formula for failure, is to ask little and expect little," Mr. Cortines said. "Because little is what we will get, and little is all that their education will mean to them."

Banishing 'Bonehead' Work

Mr. Cortines announced the new graduation requirements for the nation's largest public school district last spring. Under his plan, the students who entered 9th grade last fall must take three academic math and three academic science courses to graduate. (See Education Week, 5/11/94.)

Although the students are not required to seek the regents diploma, which is offered state~wide, Mr. Cortines said he would encourage them to do so.

At the same time, the chancellor said he was going to abolish "bonehead math and science" courses, such as fundamentals of mathematics and human biology, and replace them with algebra, geometry, trigonometry, Earth science, biology, and chemistry.

All told, 50,500 students took regents math this year, an increase of 13,900 over last year.

Meanwhile, enrollment in regents-level science courses more than doubled, from 20,500 last year to 48,100 this year.

Minority, Geographic Impact

Minority students also posted gains, especially in science.

Thirty-five percent more black students took the higher-level math course this year, while Latino students boosted their academic math enrollment by 65 percent.

Enrollment in college-preparatory science jumped 129 percent for black students and 265 percent for Latino students.

Even though passage rates declined, the number of students who passed rose substantially.

More than 6,500 additional black students and 7,000 Latino students passed the regents science courses.

The initiative also had a geographic impact.

The poorest borough in the city, the Bronx, showed the most dramatic growth in enrollment and passing rates, according to Askia Davis, the senior assistant to Mr. Cortines.

"The Bronx has significantly closed that gap this year," said Mr. Davis, referring to its students' underrepresentation in regents-level courses.

Of the 9th graders who did not take the academic courses, Mr. Davis said most tended to be special-education or bilingual students and recent arrivals to the United States with little formal schooling.

"All of what is happening to those groups is not clear," Mr. Davis said. A report scheduled for release in the fall will examine their status.

Summer School Help

Despite major budget problems facing the district, Mr. Davis said the school system is committed to offering summer classes for those 9th graders who failed the tougher math and science courses.

Summer school will also be available for sophomores and upperclassmen who failed the regents-level math and science courses, he said.

But 10th and 11th graders who flunked lower-level courses will not get a chance to retake those courses this summer. Only students whose graduation is at stake will receive help.

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