High School Graduation Requirements: The Regents Should Review Course and Testing Requirements in a Transparent Environment

With the changing of the guard, a new chancellor and vice chancellor and two new members, the Board of Regents have an opportunity to take the initiative instead of reacting. The agenda of the regents has been driven from Washington (the Race to the Top, Common Core, Teacher Evaluation), the governor (student test score based teacher evaluation, receivership, the recommendations of the Cuomo Task Force) and the opt outs (reduce the length of tests, limit the number of tests and find alternative to testing).

The regents and the current commissioner and former commissioners have been scrambling to increase scores on the required grades 3-8 tests as well as high school graduation rates.

The “solution” to high graduation rates has been backing away the single regents diploma. The two-day, three hour each day English Regent exam was reduced to a one-day three hour exam, the Global History Regents will move from an exam covering 9th and 10th grade to covering only 10th grade, the common core regents exams are being phased in over eight years (currently in year three), the scores are scaled. The “Four plus One Option allows a student to use an approved assessment (Read description here  and here) in lieu of a Social Studies Regents. The commissioner recommended a number of other ideas to ease the impact of the exams.

 In an effort to provide more pathways to graduation for New York’s diverse student population, the Department proposed to the Board new options that would provide students with additional opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in order to earn a diploma. These proposals include widening the score range for any students who wish to appeal their Regents Exam result; establishing a graduation pathway in Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS); and the creation of a project-based assessment for students who pass coursework required for a diploma but who have not passed required Regents Exams.

Perhaps the Board can use the leadership transition to explore the entire issue of course requirements, exams and types of high school diplomas. 

Should the state create a  new type of diploma for categories of students with disabilities who cannot pass five Regents?  Should the state create a type of diploma for general education students who pass courses, have excellent attendance and cannot pass a specific regents exam?

Half of students with disabilities graduate in four years, there are categories of SWD whose disability impairs their ability to pass a specific regents exam, in spite of the safety net. Can the student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) allow for an alternative to a specific regents exam?

There are a category of general education students with excellent attendance, who pass courses and have failed a regents multiple times: can the state create a “valid and reliable” alternative?  How do you assure that the alternative is standard across the state? Will the alternative be scored at the same level of difficulty in Scarsdale and inner city Buffalo?

Should we revise the course requirements for a high school diploma?

The course requirement for high school students are specifically proscribed by state regulations (See Part 100.5 – the course requirements here). Should computer coding be considered a mathematics course in order to meet the required three units of mathematics? Should the “Four Plus One” option be expanded to other areas?  (BTW, how many schools offer the 4 + 1 option?)

Are the Common Core Regents too complex? 

The SED is in the process of phasing in common core regents exams and a recent report questions the impact of the Common Core Algebra 1 exam: “Rough Calculations: Will the Common Core Algebra Regents Exam Threaten Graduation Rates?”  (August, 2015), the scale scores are not progressing adequately

BTW, How would you do on the Global History Regents exam?  Give it a try: click here.

Should the current forty schools with Regents portfolio waivers be expanded?

Since the early nineties the SED have granted a limited number of small high schools in New York City that are part of the Performance-Based Assessment Consortium,  waivers that have been reauthorized many times. SED is now proposing a different iteration of a performance-based assessment for students who pass courses and fail regents exams (see proposal here) Is the proposal another type of credit recovery? A diminution of standards?  Will the proposal actually discourage students from taking a regents exam?  Is an online project a reasonable replacement for a Regents exam?  A beginning of a move to competency-based education? Does a system in which students answer questions at computers actually assess competency? The SED defines Performance-Based Assessment (PBA) as “administration of PBA in a computerized and supervised testing situation,”  Is SED moving down a path to substitute PBA for Regents?

Graduation rates jumped one percent this year, however, disturbing percentages of high school graduates require remediation in college and really, really disturbing percentages of high school grads never graduate community college. Does “easing” the required exams  result in less prepared college students?

It’s time for the regents to become proactive: a transparent discussion across the state – let’s not sacrifice students to higher graduation rates.  Let’s explore all paths that prepare students for the world of college and work,  the Campaign for Fiscal Equity Decision (CFE), should be a guide,

In his decision, the trial court judge, Justice DeGrasse, followed the Court of Appeals’ directive to fill in the contours of the definition of a “sound basic education.” Justice DeGrasse took the Court of Appeals’ statement that students should be able to “function productively” as requiring that schools offer students the chance to obtain employment that would provide a living wage. He found therefore that schools should be required to offer students the opportunity to learn the kind of math, science, and computer skills that are often required in today’s society for competitive employment. He interpreted the Court of Appeals’ directive regarding civic participation as requiring that students have skills that would permit them to understand the kind of complex issues that they might be asked to evaluate as voters or jurors, such as tax policy, global warming, or DNA evidence.



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