Flunking Out Kids: School Systems Must Develop Multiple Pathways to a Diploma

Fifteen years ago the state took a bold step: they terminated the local diploma, sort of.

New York State had a dual diploma system: a Regents diploma that required passing five Regents examinations and a local diploma that required passing Regents Competency Exams (RCT), exams, maybe at the eighth grade level.

In my high achieving high school only 25% of kids graduated with a Regents diploma, in many, many high schools virtually no kids graduated with a Regents diploma.

The state plan was to require all kids to pass Regents exams: to phase in the single diploma by dropping the passing grade to 55 and incrementally requiring students to pass additional Regents with a grade of 65 until all five had to be passed with a grade of 65 and the RCT exam was phased out.

The June, 2012 graduating class will be the first class not to have access to the RCT exam with all kids having to pass five Regents with grades of 65.

Anecdotally teachers feel the exams have become easier. The English exam was a 6-hour exam over two days – it has been reduced to a one day 3-hour exam. The Social Studies exams have moved from three essays to two essays.

The anchor standards – the grading standards set by the state appear to be more lenient than most teacher graders.

See New York State high school graduation requirement here.

The State is considering upgrading the requirements – higher passing scores on English and Math Regents as well as increasing complexity.

See proposal here.

In New York City the Department constantly “tweaks” the rating metric: the School Progress Report.

While the state and the department praise themselves for “raising standards” it took the city years to stem the fraud of credit recovery – the state has yet to amend their regulations.

The department still has no policy for monitoring state exams – the hundreds of Tweed and Network staff is not assigned to schools to monitor test administration and the Governor has not provided funding for the utilization of test verification tools. The Greenberg Integrity Report is a good start – let’s see if the state funds the recommendations (see Report here)

What happens to kids who can pass the courses – the forty-four credits required for a diploma but cannot pass five Regents exams? Special Education, English Language Learners and kids who can’t pass tests. Do they simply become dropouts?

We continue to move towards more and more testing, testing and more testing.

In three years the PARCC assessments will be here.

In grades 3-11 five, that’s right, five test a year!!

  • Two summative, required assessment components designed to:
  • Two non-summative, optional assessment components designed to:
  • An additional third non-summative component will assess students’ speaking and listening skills
  • Make “college- and career-readiness” and “on-track”      determinations,
  • Measure the full range of standards and full performance continuum, and
  • Provide data for accountability uses, including measures of growth.
  • Generate timely information for informing  instruction, interventions, and professional development during the school      year.

The folks from PARCC, and apparently the folks in DC and Albany see nothing wrong with five tests every year.

This year several thousand kids who have passed all their courses will not graduate. Each year the number will grow because there is only one path to graduation – the Regents exam to be replaced by the PARCC exams.

Raising the bar does not make athletes or kids jump higher.

Not without scaffolds and supports.

Perhaps following research that identifies successful practices that schools ignore: see the work of Robert Balfanz at John Hopkins, “Putting Middle Grades Students on the Graduation Pathhttp://www.amle.org/portals/0/pdf/research/Research_from_the_Field/Policy_Brief_Balfanz.pdf)

Or, acknowledging that the policies in New York City are disastrous for kids living in the poorest neighborhoods, A Rotting Apple: Education Redlining in New York City

The state must “get real,” PARCC will simply increase the number of kids left behind and the rest may become more and more adept test takers – not adults able to create and thrive. An op ed in the New York Times questions the impact of a college education, kids seem to be learning very little in their very, very expensive four years in college.

Views of the current system are, like Rashomon , dependent upon the lens of the viewer. Eric Nadelstern and I see the past ten years differently, however, I agree with his concluding passage in his Schoolbook blog ,

I would counsel [the new mayor] to evaluate the reforms of the past decade before deciding to adopt or dismiss them. I would recommend that we look to the future rather than the past in selecting the next chancellor. And I would respectfully suggest that the glory days of public education lie ahead of us to a time when every child, regardless of race and socioeconomic status, is able to achieve at the highest levels.


6 responses to “Flunking Out Kids: School Systems Must Develop Multiple Pathways to a Diploma

  1. Eric Nadelstern

    Two for two! Honored to be referenced in this manner.


  2. Olivia Koppell

    And I would respectfully suggest that “the glory days of public education” which did exist in the past (I was there) would be a good place to start to make sure those days are also in our future. They “threw the baby out with the bathwater” and we would do well to take the good from that time and adapt it to today’s world. The first place to look is the curriculum and next teacher education/training. Since the late sixites children have been deprived of the subjects that inspire, enhance learning and make school interesting – and yes – fun.


    • Olivia,
      I was there as well, but NYC schools had a 50% dropout rate then, and ever since the early 1900’s. What is needed now, instead of the current quackery, is to figure out how to maximize each unique child’s education without putting all on the same September to June ‘train’ either accepting the inevitable dropouts, or-the corollary-the meaningless watered down diploma. That’s where the revolution should be, not the current trend of skimming off the easily educated and making profit from them while leaving the rest to wither.

      OBTW, the watered down diploma exists on the college level as well, and higher Ed has its own shameful behavior: admitting anyone, taking loan money for students unlikely to succeed (sticking those kids with lifetime loans), raising tuitions out of all proportions, eliminating tenured professorial faculty, judging adjuncts soley by student evaluations, etc.


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