Multiple Pathways (and Obstacles) to Graduation: How Can We Help the 25% of Students Who Fail to Graduate?

Multiple Pathways to Graduation is a strange term. Twenty years ago the Regents decided to end the dual local or Regents diploma pathways. After debate that dragged on for a few years the Regents decided to terminate the local diploma pathway – all students would have to pass five Regents exams, the alternate pathway, the Regents Competency Test (RCT), an eighth grade level exam would be phased out with a “safety net” for Students with Disabilities (SWD). During the phase-in the passing grade on Regents exams was reduced to 55 and incrementally students had to pass Regents with a grade of 65 – the Regents delayed the full implementation a numerous times – it took a dozen years. We now have one pathway – the Regents diploma – the RCT diploma- the local diploma is gone, the “safety net” (Regents grade of 55) is the only alternative pathway and only applies to SWDs.(See graduation requirements for students with disabilities here)

The adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), standards at a significantly higher level narrow the pathway to graduation. The decision to phase in the impact of CCSS Regents exams, similar to the decision to eliminate the RCT diploma, makes perfect sense.

By adopting the “college and career readiness” metric the Regents have re-created a dual diploma. We define “college and career readiness’ as grades of 75 on the Algebra 1 Regents exam and 80 on the English Regents, and, we have no definition of “career readiness.” About a third of graduates meet the “college and career readiness” bar.

The Regents have been discussing the ill-defined “multiple pathways” for years. (See 2012 discussion items here) The Commissioner has “suggested” that the feds only require high school exit exams in English, Math and Science, and, perhaps we should adopt the fed standards. A year or so ago the Commissioner was enthusiastic about New York State adopting the PARCC consortium exams – national exams in English and Math for all kids in grades 3 – 11, although PARCC has not been mentioned recently as the pushback against the CCSS has increased across the state.

At the July Retreat the Regents will consider a proposal, called “Four Plus One,” to make the Global Studies Regents exam optional and replace the exam with a number of other possible assessments.

While we have absolutely no definition of “career readiness” the Department posits that an “industry-approved CTE assessment” substitute for the Global Regents exam.

What does an “industry-approved assessment” look like?

The California Department of Education CTE Industry-Assessment:

Take a look at the “Engineering and Architecture” assessments:

These standards are far above the current Regents standards – far, far more difficult than passing a Global Studies Regents.

In fact, rather than talking about “Four Plus One,” talking about an alternative pathway, the Regents should consider an “industry-approved assessment” as qualifying for a “diploma with advanced designation”
(See diploma requirements here)

At the P-Tech presentation the presenters proudly proclaimed that the program was not a screened program then went on to explain how they screen students. P-Tech has received more hype than any school model in memory. Unfortunately it is not a panacea. The presenters explained how in their upstate county a new hi tech industry was seeking 200 new employees and only six applicants fit the qualifications – the enthusiastic panelists said they were looking for kids who were “knuckle-busters,” kids interesting in working in industry, the gentleman sitting next to me leaned over and said, “He fails to mention the kids also have to pass the Algebra 2 Regents with grades of 75”).

The Brooklyn P-Tech School – visited by President Obama and the model for the other 16 new P-Tech sites has data as described below:

For the 12-13 School Year (January, June and August Regents Exams)
Regents Exam Average Grade
Algebra 1 72
Geometry 57
Algebra 2 47
Living Environment 68
Physics 54

Bottom line: Not a magic bullet.

When we talk about multiple or more accurately alternative pathways to graduate we mean what are we doing for the 25% of kids who do not graduate?

“Four Plus One,” or P-Tech or Industry Assessments will not help these kids. The 25% include SWD who cannot reach the safety net, English language learners, Afro-American and Hispanic males and kids identified in the sixth grade with attendance below 80% … what are we doing for these kids?

The Commissioner and a number of Board members refer to lack of “access and opportunity,” what does that mean? For too many kids there are no chances of “access and opportunity” Rural districts are on the cusp of educational bankruptcy – they can barely provide the courses required for graduation, in the “big five” cities industries have been leaving for two decades, along with jobs, foreclosures, poor health services, which the Governor, the Regents and the Commissioner ignore.

Scattered around the state there are schools and clusters of schools that succeed, shouldn’t we study why these outliers are succeeding? Why is Columbia Secondary School in Harlem highly successful and the vaunted P-Tech stumbling? Why are English language learners in the fifteen International High Schools graduating at rates substantially above English language learners throughout the state? Why are the Expeditionary Learning Schools outperforming other high schools?

Let’s hope the deep dive into Multiple Pathways to Graduation is not a charade – there are no easy answers, dropping a “hard” Regents is not helping kids; let’s not allow “fear of the feds” drive doing what is best for our kids – all of our kids.


4 responses to “Multiple Pathways (and Obstacles) to Graduation: How Can We Help the 25% of Students Who Fail to Graduate?

  1. A provocative piece. Of course, I do agree that there are some schools that manage to move their kids significantly up in comparison to others. No surprises there. But in my opinion, the greatest challenges reside in the early grades where kids fall behind and stay behind. After two decades of disappointing results, I think it’s clear to those without a political axe to grind, that remediation does not work sufficiently to make up lost ground. Yes, let’s continue to work on improving the secondary schools. But to focus on multiple secondary pathways when the 25% hit a dead end years ago is folly. That is why it is particularly troublesome that some NYC leaders are endorsing instructional methodologies that have a proven track record of failure. Let’s get on the only pathway that counts – solid instruction and curricula that engages students and that builds content knowledge, college preparatory skills and earned confidence. And let’s start earlier than 6th grade.


  2. Years ago the UFT was asked to participate in a program called the Comprehensive Mathematics and Science Program. This was an effort by an association of black engineers to better prepare kids for success in engineering. In cooperation with (I think) Cooper Union, the kids were exposed to 10 periods per week of math. Five of regular instruction, five of support. Success was measured by a Regents scores, but… A 77 was marginal, 87 was acceptable, 95 was exemplary.

    The results were great.

    Without good/great math skills, one cannot survive engineering school. All the BS being thrown around about how to achieve success tries to ignore what worked for a decade. I know, I was there.

    The program was dropped due to its cost, despite the outside support.


  3. Marc Korashan

    Heywood and David S are pointing to two of the major problems in all educational reform movements, including the current ones.
    Historically educational reform has been a top down process; from colleges to high schools to middle schools, and so on. But formal education starts in preschool and preschoolers are very different from elementary school age students and elementary school students are very different from middle schoolers and so on.

    reformers look at data in the aggregate; all New York State or City graduates, all graduates from a particular school or program. We teach individual students. Teachers are required to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of individual students as they attempt to accomplish a single goal for all of them. In real classrooms students will make demands on the teacher’s time and attention that may alter the trajectory of a lesson or require postponing the completion of a program component. Students arrive with different levels of skill, interests, and familiarity with and acceptance of the rules for the school culture. No single top-down rule-based recipe, P-Tech, the Workshop Model, Balanced Literacy, etc, will move all students forward at the same pace.

    If the reformers truly want students to succeed, they will empower teachers to strat looking at how they deal with the individuals in their classrooms and stop trying to impose a single “recipe for success.”

    Education is first and foremost about convincing the students, especially those with a history of school failure, with disabilities, or who come from non-traditional middle class backgrounds, that they are liked, respected, and cared about. It is only when that relationship is established that we can begin to work with individuals to push them to try to meet our highest expectations. and


  4. The Post editorial board,
    as simplistic and stupid as ever,
    but at least more subtle.


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