The Forgotten Kids: The 25% Who Fail to Graduate. Who Are They? and, Will the State Create Multiple Pathways to Graduation?

The State Education Department as well as the New York City Department of Education consistently point to rising high school graduation rates. Whether the rising rates are due to more efficient management structures, credit recovery, pressures within schools for kids to accumulate credits or better leadership and more effective instruction we don’t know, and the school district, city and state leaderships don’t appear to be concerned as long as the metrics increase.

The increases are at the margins – significant numbers of kids do not reach the “college and career readiness” benchmarks – grades of 75 on the English Regents and 80 on the Math Regents.

The city and the state are not asking: who are kids who are not graduating?

The answer: Students with Disabilities (SWD), English language learners and the “gray” area kids – kids who pass all their subjects and cannot pass five regents exams. The move to Common Core Regents exam will only increase the number of kids not graduating.

New York State has moved to a “one size fits all” system – either you accumulate credits and pass five regents, or, you don’t graduate. Period. In the nineties the State began the phase out of the dual diploma – the Regents and the Regents Competency Test (RCT) diplomas, a system which recognized the varying levels of student ability.

Should the State allow for “Multiple Pathways,” other paths to graduation aside from the “standard model.” The State has been approving a waiver for twenty-five high schools – a “portfolio-roundtable” option within the Performance-Based Standards Consortium.

For a number of years the Board of Regents has been grappling with the question of high school graduation requirements. The internal argument: should we “nibble around the edges” or take a deep look and make coordinated changes, if we feel they are appropriate? The Board recently added a Research Paper requirement – however – it will only impact the 2014 entering class – the 2017 senior graduating class will be the first on which the new requirement will impact.

As the Regents and the Department struggle with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, the impact of the Common Core state tests, the principal/teacher accountability system (APPR), the collection of personal student data and the report of John Flanagan, the Chair of the Senate Education Committee the Coalition for Multiple Pathways to a Diploma issued a report entitled. “Rethinking Pathways to High School Graduation in New York State.” The report represents the thoughts of a range of organizations.

The recommendations of the report:

Reduce the Number of Exit Exams Required to Graduate with a High School Diploma from 5 to 3.

The recommendation would retain the English, Mathematics and the Science Regents and make the two Social Studies Regents – Global Studies and American History optional – although the recommendation would retain the course requirements.

Develop a Pathway to Graduation That Allows All Students to Demonstrate Their Knowledge and Skills Through State-Developed and/or Approved Performance-Based Assessments

In other words in lieu of a regents exam New York State would offer a performance-based assessment, as do the 25 schools with an approved state waiver.

Build More Flexibility and Support into the Current System to Make It More Accessible to Students.

The report suggests easing the Regents appeals procedure and provide alternative assessments for student in Career and Technical Education programs.

Ensure Transparency in Communications and Monitoring of All Aspects of the Multiple Pathways System.

The report urges better communications to families in regard to alternative pathways as well as a far more transparent system so that we can compare outcomes across multiple student groups.

The Multiple Pathways coalition faces an awesome task.

The Commissioner is battling increasingly angry constituencies around the state, the skirmishes have turned in to battles, the electeds, fearing voter backlash are introducing legislation and the governor, who has always stayed at the edge of the fray, may take a more active role.

The Common Core Algebra Regents Exam is due in June with the rollout of the rest of the Common Core exams over the next few years, and, let’s not forget PARCC. The Commissioner is committed to moving the current state tests to the PARCC exams in the near future, and, the PARCC exams not only replace the grades 3-8 tests they overlap the Regents, PARCC requires testing in grades 3-11.

I think the “air in the room” is too invested in the current maelstrom.

And, let’s not forget, we will probably have a new chancellor for New York City in a few days.

Hopefully the coalition report will begin a dialogue. Over the past few years the “dialogue” has been one-way – State Education and the Regents defending policy initiatives as the “field” pushes back.

Arne Duncan, John King, Mayor Bloomberg, the CEOs of major corporations all bemoan the state of American education – they cry that the just released international PISA scores highlight how our system is failing. Amanda Ripley, in “The Smartest Kids in the World does a wonderful analysis of the kids in schools in Finland, South Korea and Poland, three of the highest achieving school systems in the world. She asks whether the American people want those schools, or, maybe we have the school we want.

In January the Regent promise a block of time to discuss Multiple Pathways – let’s hope an important topic gets to breathe part of the air.


7 responses to “The Forgotten Kids: The 25% Who Fail to Graduate. Who Are They? and, Will the State Create Multiple Pathways to Graduation?

  1. More pathways to high school graduation is an old, solid idea. Rather than subjective criteria, like portfolios, why not bring back vocational education, with industry recognized skills testing, or have graduation dependent on professional licensing. Sorry, but not everyone is college material, and, last I checked, a college education is not guaranteed by our Constitution.

    Colleges would be grateful and save money by not having to run remedial courses in Math and English, too. Tuition might actually decrease when these remedial courses are dropped, and faculty could focus on higher education!


  2. In 1947 when I graduated from High School, there were 2 tracks, Academic and Non-Academic students. Academic graduates could go on to college. Others would follow vocational objectives and go into the business world. There was no stigma attached to non-academic students. They would just be in the business world faster.
    There should be vocational programs, as the writer before me suggested. He also said “not everyone is college material” , of course i agree. We need a whole host of people to do other jobs to keep our economy running. They should be given the right tools and not be stigmatized by a system that is “testing crazy”.
    I am a retired NYC teacher, so I had to have an undergraduate and graduate degree from college. There still needs to be people to fix my car, do the plumbing and farm the lands, they might have college degrees, but they do not have to and should not be seen as failures because they do not have an academic degree.


  3. Marc S. Korashan

    There is no question that we need multiple pathways to graduation. Nor should there be any question about the value and utility fo CTE courses that lead to industry recognized certifications and real jobs for students who do not envision themselves in college.

    Before developing pathways we need to be clear about what high school graduate should know and be able to do. To be prepared for college a graduate must be able to read and write well, and to read quantities of material. S/he must be able to do mathematics at both the basic level and understand how mathematics can be used to solve problems and create models.

    A high school graduate should have a basic knowledge of American and World history and demonstrate that s/he can think like an historian by doing some historical research on a topic of interest (this is part of college readiness). A high school graduate should have an understanding of American government and should have a basic knowledge of economics (and personal finance) so that s/he is prepared to participate in civic life. A graduate should also know some basic science including life sciences, the physics of engines and electricity, and basic chemistry. (High schools should be prepared to offer more challenging (AP?) courses in all these disciplines as well as the basic courses implied here) Finally, high school graduates should have been exposed to art, music,drama, and sports so that they have had the opportunity to explore their interest in these area as well as in vocational or academic subjects.

    I don’t believe that the Regents are the best or only way to demonstrate that a student is ready to graduate. Many Learning Disabled students will be able to do well on research projects of their choice in history or economics, especially if we create opportunities for oral or other non-traditional formats for the work. Portfolios are not subjective when there are clear rubrics developed ahead of time for grading them. In fact these rubrics can demand much more of a student than a single test.

    What should be clear is that this is a conversation that educators at both the K-12 and Secondary level must engage in. It is not a matter of political compromises and not something that politicians can direct from above. If the Regents want to tackle this and make meaningful and potentially lasting changes to the graduation requirements, then they should start to bring educators together to have this discussion and issue a report that is about a system designed to make our students demonstrate high achievement not one that waters down requirements (devaluing history for example) to increase graduation rates.


  4. Nancy S. Dunetz, K-12 plus college educator

    Perhaps things would improve if the decisions were made by educators (teachers from Pre-K to 12, not college professors) rather than business tycoons and philanthropists who are self-styled experts. All of Bloomberg’s chancellors required waivers because they were not qualified to be chancellor, as was the last chancellor of the Giuliani administration, Harold O. Levy. I question the credentials of those who are overseeing the common core curriculum as well.


  5. As a reviewer of the report, and a very engaged member of the Coalition, I am pleased to see this very important issue receiving attention. As Executive Director of the Learning Disabilities Association of NYS, I represent parents, professionals and individuals with learning disabilities who are extremely concerned about high stakes tests like the Regents Exams. As Mr. Korashan notes, many students with learning disabilities will not be able to demonstrate their proficiency in the subject matter with these tests, yet they know the material and would be able to demonstrate their mastery of the material through projects, portfolio review and other non-standardized testing methods. Recently, after presenting on this topic, a young woman approached me afterwards. She said that she has a significant learning disability and is now interning as a chemist. She knows chemistry very well, but was not successful on the State Regents exam. A large part of the 25% not graduating are students with learning disabilities who know the material (or would, with appropriate accommodations and supports), yet they cannot get past the Regents exams. We need as a state to accept that education, and assessment, is not “one-size-fits-all” and we need alternative pathways.

    Developing CTE is a good start, but the state must be willing to commit substantial resources to its (re)development in most districts. The Board of Regents has floated proposals to allow substitution of CTE accreditation for one or two Regents exams. This is not good enough. We need alternative pathways so that no single exam will be an obstacle to a heard-working student receiving a well-deserved high school diploma. The stakes are too high to keep ignoring this issue.


  6. Carole Silverstein.

    Why do we always find ourselves explaining what is right. We have been advocating alternative paths for years. Enjoy the holiday and see how great the baby is. You are allowed to take a break.


  7. Pingback: Diane Ravitch and CCSS | wwndtd

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