By: Velvet Spicer

Students in the Rochester City School District continue to trail their counterparts statewide in third-grade English language arts proficiency, high school graduation rates and kindergarten readiness, an annual report from ROC the Future shows.

ROC the Future, a nonprofit alliance of more than 60 local organizations dedicated to improving outcomes for Rochester children, on Tuesday released its eighth annual State of Our Children Report Card, which details student-level achievement, as well as data on school and community systems and examples of how the coalition is working to change and create systems to support cradle to career outcomes.

The Report Card also addressed the pandemic and systemic racism and the effect both have or will have on student learning.

“The short-term and long-term effects are not yet known,” the report said of COVID-19 and remote learning. “What we do know is we must be ready to step up in new ways to support our children and families as they recover from lost learning and work through social and emotional impacts.”

In examining school and community systems, ROC the Future also is intentionally focusing on race equity.

“We recognize that racism is embedded in the structures, policies and practices of our institutions and communities,” the report states. “Taking a systems-level approach will disrupt structural racism and build racial equity, ensuring that all children have the opportunity to thrive from cradle to career.”

In terms of kindergarten readiness for RCSD and community-based programs, the percentage of children ready fell in 2019 to 52 percent. Readiness among African American children improved to 51 percent, while the percentage of white children ready for school fell to 64 percent. Some 49 percent of Hispanic and Latino children were ready for kindergarten last year, unchanged from the 2017-2018 school year.

ROC the Future has set a goal of 80 percent readiness across the board.

Some 18 percent of RCSD students showed third-grade ELA proficiency in the 2018-2019 school year, up from the previous year but still far below the 52 percent statewide. The lowest-performing school reported a 3 percent proficiency, while the highest reported 48 percent.

Forty percent of non-economically disadvantaged students showed third-grade English language arts proficiency, compared with 16 percent of economically disadvantaged kids. Among African American students, 18 percent show third-grade ELA proficiency, down from the previous year, while among Hispanic and Latino children that dropped to 14 percent.

High school graduation rates improved to 63 percent in 2019 but remained far behind the 83 percent statewide. The lowest graduation rate was 30 percent, while the highest was 95 percent. Students of color had a 63 percent graduation rate, while white students fell to 64 percent. Asian students had the highest graduation rate at 76 percent.

RTF has set a goal of 80 percent of all high school seniors in Rochester graduating with their ninth-grade cohort.

Additionally, the report card shows:

  • Student achievement varies greatly from one school building to another.
    • Family support for pre-K children and adolescents is strong, but adolescents report little sense of support at school or in the community.
    • Pre-kindergarten programs continue to provide high-quality classroom environments but supports in elementary and secondary schools vary greatly.
    • The need to be attentive to community factors, including child poverty, youth employment, family mobility and access to transportation.

“Systems-level change in schools is not only about making the current education system work better. It is also about transforming the system for the future. Our children, especially the youngest, are learning for careers and a world that do not exist yet,” the report states.

To meet that challenge, RTF has formed the Community Commission on Education. Chaired by Melanie Funchess and Dirk Hightower, the planning group has introduced its goals to community stakeholders and content experts for feedback and interest. The commission will launch this year with a focus on creating a framework for its work over the next two to three years.

“We need the entire community to support the education of our children,” said RTF Director of Research & Analytics Stephanie Townsend. “Our region’s larger employers can play an important role not only through their philanthropic contributions but also through their own organizational practices.”

Townsend suggested the business community help in those endeavors by:

  • Offering paid time off for parents/guardians to attend school conferences and children’s medical and dental appointments
  • Providing high quality, on-site early childhood programs or a childcare benefit for employees
  • Paying livable wages
  • Offering high school internships and summer employment for youth

This year’s “State of Our Children” address that typically accompanies the report card has gone virtual and will take place from Nov. 16 to 19 with the theme of “Equity and Education: The Next Horizon.”