A state comptroller audit says the city’s education department must do more to prepare its students for life after high school.

The audit surveyed 71,210 New York City students slated to graduate high school in 2019 and found that 23% of them did not graduate on time, and 80% of those students were either Hispanic or Black. State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said the findings underscored the department’s “significant racial, ethnic and geographic disparities in college readiness”

“It is the DOE’s responsibility to ensure that New York’s children are provided with an educational foundation that helps them achieve their full potential and realize their dreams,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “The DOE must make sure students are ready for their next steps after high school and should prioritize elementary and middle school intervention in city school districts where large numbers of students do not graduate high school.”

The audit found that different districts produced a range of results anywhere from 9% of students in Harlem’s District 4 not graduating to 49% of students in Brownsville’s District 23. And while 63% of the surveyed students graduated and enrolled in college, 38% of those students did not stay enrolled for at least six months, the audit said.

Speaking with Gothamist over email on Tuesday, DOE spokesperson Nicole Brownstein pointed to a department statement on Schools Chancellor David Banks’ vision “for every New York City public school student to graduate prepared and on a path to rewarding careers aligned with their passion and purpose and offering long-term economic security and a choice-filled life.” The statement said the DOE had set out to “reimagine the student experience” and strengthen college and career readiness.

“This administration is deeply committed to continuing to strengthen the path from high school to college and good paying careers,” Brownstein said. “We have been vocal on this issue, and we are working to put in place programs that include school funding and staff training to support college and career advising; advanced coursework, including [advanced placement] courses; expanded and equitable early college credit programs; and bridge-to-college programming in the months following graduation."

The audit compared education backgrounds using a random sample of 291 students and found nearly half of them were not college-ready by the education department’s own standards. This included 75 students who didn’t graduate high school on time, and 56 students who did not meet proficiency standards. DiNapoli said that most of the students who were found unprepared for college had one common thread: they had low standardized test scores for English and math.

In an interview with Gothamist on Tuesday, Professor David C. Bloomfield from Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center said the concern should be mainly on making sure students are ready for the next steps by high school graduation, regardless of how many years it takes them to get there.

He emphasized that four-year graduation rates could incentivize schools to get students their degrees before they’re ready.

“I worry about rushing kids out of high school just to clear the decks … being moved along with empty credentials,” said Bloomfield, who teaches education leadership, law, and policy. “It's not clear that taking more time to graduate means you are less capable than if you graduated on time. It may be costly because they’ve got more kids in school, but you know, that's more a budget and a staffing issue and a capacity issue than it is an educational [one].”

Bloomfield also said the pandemic may have potentially contributed to even longer graduation times for more students.

“Post-pandemic, especially kids, take a long time to graduate,” he said. “So I'm not really worried about kids taking four-and-a-half, five, six years to graduate.”

To address the disparities, DiNapoli recommended that the DOE analyzed state test results in elementary and middle schools in order to identify students in need of extra help at an earlier point in their schooling.