Is It Time to Review High School Graduation Requirements? Regents Exams? Computer Science as a Required Course? Authentic Assessments?

The Commissioner and the Board of Regents have been totally focused on writing a new school accountability plan under the provisions of the new Every School Succeeds Act (ESSA).  Hopefully the plan will be more equitable, the plan will identify the Title 1 schools in the lowest five percent as defined by the metrics in the state plan.

Will the plan impact teaching and learning?  Will we be identifying the same schools we would have identified under the prior law, No Child Left Behind?

While I am hopeful that the new plan will be an improvement larger questions emerge: How do we define “college and career ready?” Do our current graduation requirements, courses and assessments, i. e., regents exams, lead to college/career readiness?

David Conley, “Four Keys to College and Career Readiness” is the national expert and has written extensively.

New York State uses a narrow definition: The City University (CUNY) defines college and career readiness as grades of 75 on the Algebra 1 Regents and 80 on the English Regents.  State Ed, under the leadership of acting commissioner Ken Wagner was planning to move to aspirational regents grades: five “levels” of achievement.

Level 5: Exceeds Common Core expectations

Level 4: Meets Common Core expectations

Level 3: Partially meets Common Core expectations … comparable to students who pass current Regents exams with a score of 65

Level 2: (Safety Net) Partially meets Common Core expectations (required for local diploma purposes), expect comparable percentages of students who pass current Regents exams with a score of 55.

Level 1: Does not demonstrate Knowledge and Skills.

These “levels” would be scale scores, the test would undergo psychometric massage to determine the level.

The Commissioner, quietly, backed away from the plan to move from the current  0-100 grading system with 65 passing to aspirational scale score levels.

An underlying issue: courses and assessment exams.

The high school graduation requirements are below:  22 units (44 one-term courses) click on the link for a more detailed explanation.

  1. English, four units of commencement level credit;
  2. social studies, four units of credit … ;
  3. science, three units of credit of commencement level science, at least one course shall be life sciences and at least one in the physical sciences, the third may be either life sciences or physical sciences;
  4. mathematics, three units of credit of mathematics, which shall be at a more advanced level than grade eight, shall meet commencement level learning standards as determined by the commissioner, provided that no more than two credits shall be earned for any Integrated Algebra, Geometry, or Algebra 2 and Trigonometry commencement level mathematics course;
  5. visual arts and/or music, dance, or theatre, one unit of credit; and
  6. health education, one-half unit of credit in accordance with the requirements set forth in section 135.3(c) of this Title. Learning standards in the area of parenting shall be attained through either the health or family and consumer sciences programs or a separate course.

In addition to the courses students must pass exit exams – the Regents Exams.


Mathematics (usually Algebra 1)

Science (usually Living Environment)

American History and Government (usually at the end of the Junior year)

Global History and Geography (currently covers two years (9th and 10th grades) of work, in June 2018 the exam will only cover 10th grade work)

Check here for a detailed description and alternative pathways

Let’s ask some essential questions:

* Should we continue to “nibble around edges,” namely, making it incrementally easier to graduate, or, address the essential questions?

Should we adopt a state-wide core curriculum with required readings? The current EngageNY curriculum modules are not required and the state tests are not based on a curriculum, they are based on a set of standards. Should state tests be curriculum and standards based?

Should instruction be grade level regardless of the level of the students?  Some argue that by teaching to the level of the kids we are assuring that kids will never reach grade level or higher?

There are school and grade organizational models that are far more instructionally impactful than others – is it the role of the state to “strongly encourage” evidence-based grade/school organizational/instructional models?

Should coding and computer science be part of  school curriculum and graduation requirements? New York City has announced a Computer Science for All initiative,

Through an unprecedented public-private partnership, by 2025, all NYC public school students will receive meaningful, highquality Computer Science (CS) education at each school level: elementary, middle, and high school. Over the next 10 years, the DOE will train nearly 5,000 teachers who will bring CS education to the City’s ~1.1 million public school students. 

Hunter College made a presentation at the last Regents Meeting asking the State to approve a new teacher certification area: Teacher of Computer Science. – Grades 9 – 12. (Read proposal here).

Over 18 million students have accounts – has New York State adopted Has/should the state add computer science to the state curriculum? State graduation requirements?

And, the elephant in the room: moving from pencil and paper (or computer screen) examinations to performance task and portfolio/roundtable assessments, aka, authentic assessments. Are alternative assessments evidence-based assessments, or, the “softening” of assessments?

A cluster of New York City high schools have been granted waivers from Regents exams for twenty years, although the number of schools and the conditions of the waivers have changed (see the Performance Based Assessment Consortium here).

The state of Vermont spent years in the nineties trying to create a state-wide portfolio system that was eventually abandoned primarily due to the absence of inter-rater reliability (Check discussions here and here); Vermont is once again making an effort to move to classroom-based authentic assessments, read here.

The California Performance Assessment Consortium (CBAC) has created a bank of assessments and is working with a wide cohort of schools. Watch a live U-Tube of an  in depth discussion of the program here, including benchmarks and student work, the site of excellent!!

I am not advocating for any specific change – I am advocating for an investigation, moving beyond “playing” with graduation/testing requirements and exploring taking a deep dive into the base questions:

* Graduation requirements, are we requiring the “right” courses, and

* Should  the assessments reflect the curriculum as well as the standards, and

* Are authentic assessments, namely performance tasks and portfolios, “reliable” indicators of the quality of student work, and, if so, should we be moving forward with pilots?

Completing the ESSA school accountability plan is a beginning, a baby step, self-reflection is at the heart of effective teaching, and, effective leadership.

If we’re not satisfied with where we are now how we can we make the system better?

2 responses to “Is It Time to Review High School Graduation Requirements? Regents Exams? Computer Science as a Required Course? Authentic Assessments?

  1. Its always time to review HS graduation requirements, and the efficacy of NYS Regents exams, and for that matter The NYS Board of Regents. . I would however add the caveat that in no way should such a review be pinned to any set of standards set out by Common Core. That would be laughable.

    In as diverse a society as there is to be found in NYS, it is time that both in our suburban, rural and urban population centers, it is ludicrous to pretend that we should put our trust in a NYS Bd of Regents to mandate uniform coarse curriculum throughout the state, without exceptions or the privelege of qualifications. Lets take one issue, which has always been of major concern to me. The Apple Picking Industry of Upstate NY. Anyone whos has ever visited the area of New Paultz, Gardiner,Kingston and further west toward Sharon springs, Cooperstown n Canejeharri, will have noticed the thousands of migrant latinos working the apple orchids. They typically arrive with their families in mid July, and stay on til late October.They then move to other areas where harvesting of a different type is needed. Some enroll their children in local schools, some don’t. and as these children move across and up and down the US, they find themselves (at least those who attend schools do) as having to adapt not only to social morees of communities and peers who for the most part look askance at the, and in the large part have school leaders and teachers resent their presence as itinerant students. They are all too often placed in a class and provided with little or at best token support.The attitude of school officials being, well these students will be gone in a month or two, why bother? Are any of them learning needs students, are any of them talented and gifted students,?The NYS Bd of regents has never put forth a strategy concerning this issue. should these students have to take a NYS Regents in History or any of the other discilines, when they have had such flux in where they have attended school? My point here is that using this one dynamic of the children of migrant workers in western and upstate NY communities, how could anyone believe that a valid goal is to somehow measure them up to Common Core Standards?But thats exactly what the NYS Bd of Regents requires at this time.With this example of incongruence, I could go on and identify countless others. I believe that American Education should have as a reference point, 4 basic pre-requisite focal points.( I do not believe however that Ms DeVoss is the kind of Sec of Ed that is suitable for all Americans, but there does need to be the position). American History is #1. Because of our diversity, because of the changing faces and complexions of our new AMERICAN society, there must be an emphasis of having these citizens truly understand what our history is. Too many have an embarrassing limited degree of knowledge in this subject matter. My 2nd focal point is Literacy skill building or as we called it English. Written English and Spoken English are unquestionably two different skill sets. In the 3 hole is Mathmatics, and batting cleanup, is Science. I put Math@the 3 spot and Science@the 4, because both of these subjects have a point that after meeting minimum requirements for all students that for those students who want more advanced learning ops can elect to go in that direction, while others may choose to branch off toward a diff subject discipline. Students. In each of these 4 areas there must be held to federal guidelines of achievement,using federal exams that monitor said achievement..Thusly, I believe that given all of the movement of students that occur each year in our country that whether they are the children of migrant workers, or families that re-locate owing to employment ops for parents, or children who have been relocated owing to custody awards, and so many other variables, that whether they wind up in upstate NY, or Boston or Laramie, or De Ray Beach Fla, that they will not have to worry about catch-up in these 4 specific areas. let me share with you a personnel experience I had some years ago as Acting Prin in an elementary school in Bed Stuy.The year before this occurrence, we had completely overhauled our strategies concerning pupil readiness for uniform testing. All kinds of dynamics were set in place. The school had been rated at the 32 percentile the previous year. As the following year ensued, and the exams were given, we rose to the 52 percent level. At that point I had served for about 20 years in The NYC School system. In the fall, owing to The Principals failing health, I opened the school as The Acting Principal. At a Superintendent’s meeting, we were told that NYS had decided (after having said nothing for my entire career to that point) , to enforce a state requirement that grade 6 in the NYC elementary school must have 90 minutes of foreign language instruction each week. As this decision came down in October, and staffs and allocations had already been spent, (none of us had hired any foreign language licensed instructors) .NYS was asked for an extension til Feb to implement their mandate, They denied the request, and stipulated that schools and school districts found to be in non compliance would be penalized accordingly.Can you imagine the number of instructional strategies that so many of us had to set aside so as to provide 90 minutes of FL instruction for 6th grade classes? I was lucky, I had only two sixth grade classes, totaling 54 students.somehow we found a way to comply with the sudden and unwarranted and untimely State Bd Of regents mandate. My point being that when you have a state Bd Of Regents geared to a locked in governance approach toward setting instructional goals you are bound to have diminished results.


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