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: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/ct/sf/documents/enginearchit.pdf
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
Algebra 2 47
Living Environment 68
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.