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Underserved students, especially black students, in New York are being funneled into pathways that are least aligned with attending college, according to a policy brief from the New York Equity Coalition.

The brief examined high school graduation rate data from the 2018-19 academic year to see how alternative pathways and different diplomas were used. Those include 4+1 pathways, which let students study specific areas of interest throughout high school but still require them to pass four Regents exams or Department-Approved Alternative assessments, and local diplomas, which generally require students to take Regents exams but allow for lower scores. Regents exams are statewide standardized tests that most New York high school students are required to take to graduate.

While both the pathways program and local diplomas serve a purpose to help some students, the coalition's brief found that school districts were pushing underserved and low-income students into tracks that aren't well suited to attending college.

For example, black and Latinx students, low-income students, and English learners were disproportionately placed into the Career Development and Occupational Studies graduation pathway. This credential is meant to show the student is ready for entry-level employment, not college. Black students were put into this pathway at 4.3 times the rate of white students, and Latinx students at nearly twice the rate of white students.

Some cities did worse than others on this aspect. About 45 percent of black students who graduated in Rochester were in this pathway.

An increase in the use of local diplomas was also responsible for 62 percent of New York's five-year graduation rate gains, according to the report. Local diplomas increased more than Regents diplomas in nearly all regions outside New York City. Again, local diplomas were responsible for much of the graduation rate gains for low-income and underserved minority students.

The data also showed disparities in Advanced Regents diplomas, which are awarded to students who take more Regents exams in math and science.