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By Julie Marlette

In just a few short weeks, another school year will begin, but this year will start off differently. As students enter their classrooms, their teachers, principals and district leaders will be armed with a new tool for the new year: the first results from state assessments that are aligned with the Common Core Learning Standards.

We can now confirm what many educators and employers have suspected for some time. We knew far too few students in Buffalo, 53 percent, are graduating from high school. We knew that far too many students drop out. In the city of Buffalo only 11.5 percent of all students were found to be at or above proficiency in English language arts and a mere 9.6 percent were at or above proficiency in math. This means that, on the average, about 90 percent of students are not on track to have the skills necessary to take college-level classes or to start a job.

But these low scores do not mean our kids know less than they did last year or that they learned less over the course of the year. Instead, this drop means that the Common Core Standards, adopted by the state in 2009, represent a new set of educational expectations for our students that are higher, clearer and fewer than those previously in place. It will also honestly tell parents and teachers where their kids are so they can chart a path to where they need to be.

As it stands, far too many of our students are not finishing high school prepared. The already disappointing statewide graduation rate of 74 percent masks a far more grim reality – only 35 percent of all students receiving a diploma in New York State are prepared to enter college or the workforce successfully.

If you are a black or Hispanic student, that already dismal number plummets even further, well below 20 percent. For students here in Buffalo, the numbers are lower still.

We cannot wait until high school graduation, or even high school, to determine whether our students are on track. Each year they fall behind, it becomes harder for them to catch up and failure to do so can be devastating for them and for the state

Failure to adequately prepare students for life after high school, whether that next step is college or the workforce, costs them. It costs them the opportunity to have the job and the education they want and the lifetime earnings that can come with it. It costs them home ownership and financial security.

Keeping our standards lower, so that more students can meet them, is not a viable solution. Higher education institutions have higher standards. Employers have higher expectations. Our schools need to have similarly high expectations. The stakes are too high not to.

Julie Marlette is executive director of the New York Campaign for Achievement Now, a nonprofit group .