Niagara Gazette

Opinion

July 4, 2014

GUEST VIEW: Demographics, special needs and 'disappeared' students impact Falls grad rates

Niagara Gazette — As Paul Harvey used to say, and now for the rest of the story …

Recently, more than one media outlet has publicized area graduation and drop-out rates, citing Niagara Falls Schools as having the lowest graduation rate and highest drop-out rate in the county. That isn’t all the information one needs to form an opinion.

Merely comparing four-year cohort rates doesn’t tell the whole story, and ignores relevant data that should be considered.

The first piece of data one must look at is demographics. This is not surprising, as the district has many times referenced the challenges it faces in terms of poverty, single-parent households, and a higher-than-average population of special needs students.

Compare, for example, the median household income in Niagara County as a whole, $47,736 to that of Niagara Falls, $33,324.

More than 22,400 of Niagara Falls’ 50,195 residents live on incomes under or near the federal poverty level. Teen pregnancy rates are higher in Niagara Falls than anywhere else in the County. Despite the efforts of a well-regarded police force, crime rates are high. In the course of a year, more than one of every 100 people will be the victim of violent crime in Niagara Falls, murdered, raped, robbed, or assaulted.

It doesn’t take a social scientist to see that community schools serve just that: the community, and issues in the community become factors in schools’ success.

Also worth noting is the relatively high number of Niagara Falls students who require Individualized Education Plans, i.e., special needs students. The Niagara Falls School District typically has more than 14 percent of all students who require such plans, with 2.5 percent so severely disabled that they are in an IEP program to work toward an IEP certificate, not a high school diploma. When those students complete the IEP program successfully, they are still considered non-graduates for state reporting purposes.

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