Tuesday morning in Albany was chilly with a few inches of snow, a group of parents were picketing in front of the Department of Education building carrying “Diploma for All” signs; not the first time, they had picketed before, parents of children with disabilities who could not reach the safety net threshold for a high school diploma. It was a little odd, there were no agenda items dealing with diploma requirements.
The parents filled up a meeting room later in the day, and, voila, minutes before the meeting started an item appeared on the agenda, a change in high school graduation requirements: an additional pathway that would allow students with disabilities to graduate with a local diploma without having to pass any regents. (See proposal here)
Monica Disare, from Chalkbeat tweeted,
Very important Regents item on graduation today. It was not posted until about 5 minutes before the meeting and it looks like the Regents are about to vote.
It appears state officials are saying students with disabilities would be able to graduate with a local diploma by passing no Regents exams and instead earning a CDOS. But this is big deal and we haven’t had a chance to ask questions yet, so I will keep updating as we go.
The Regents passed the proposal with very little discussion followed by applause from the “Diploma for All” parents in the audience.
A little history: for decades New York State had a dual diploma system, the Regents diploma, requiring passing five Regents examinations and a local diploma, requiring passing Regents Competency Tests (RCTs) in English, Math and Writing; the tests are low skilled, perhaps at the Eighth Grade level. Of students in the state who earned a diploma about 75% earned the local diploma, aka, the RCT diploma. After years of debate, in the mid-nineties, the Regents moved to phase in a single diploma, the Regents diploma and phase out the RCT test and RCT diploma.
The phase-in of the all Regents diploma involved reducing the passing grade to 55 and slowly increase the number of Regents requiring a grade of 65, the phase-in took about ten years.
There was a concern: would the single diploma result in reducing graduation rates?
The Regents also created a safety net for students with disabilities, dropping the Regents passing score to 55, the two-day, six hour English Regents was reduced to a one day three-hour exam (passing rates increased by 20%), the Global Studies Regents covering the Ninth and Tenth Grade curriculum was reduced to only cover the Tenth Grade (to be implemented in June, 2019), the 4 + 1 option was adopted, an additional Pathway to graduation.
The Regents also introduced scale scores for the new Common Core-based Regents exams, assuring passing rates similar to previous years; without scale scores pass rates would dropped precipitously mirroring the drop in Grades 3-8 scores when the Common Core test were implemented.
Check out a detailed explanation of the wide range of diploma options available to students in the state.
August 2017: Diploma Requirements Video Series – Information on the credit and assessment requirements to earn a New York State Regents or local diploma.
June 2017: UPDATED Guidance on New York Diploma Requirements – New Guidance!
February 2017: Diploma Requirements including Multiple Pathways
February 2017: Summary Diploma/Credential Requirements
This chart includes information on the required units of credit and examinations for a Regents diploma, a Regents diploma with advanced designation, a local diploma the CDOS Commencement Credential and the Skills and Achievement Commencement Credential.
The changes have resulted in incremental increases in graduation rates, The New York Times reported in February,
The New York State Education Department said … that the high school graduation rate hit a new high of 79.4 percent in 2016, an increase of 1.3 points from 2015 and more than 12 points from a decade ago. But changes to graduation requirements in 2016 made it hard to know whether schools were doing better or students were simply clearing a lower bar.
Among other changes, the Board of Regents, the body that governs the state’s education system, made it possible for students with disabilities to graduate by passing two Regents exams, rather than five [the new change would not require students with disabilities to pass any Regents exams] if they showed proficiency in the other subjects through coursework. The Education Department said that 418 students statewide benefited from that change alone, which nudged the graduation rate up by 0.2 percent.
Additionally, the Regents allowed more students to appeal to their districts to graduate despite falling slightly short on one or two Regents exams. The Regents also let students graduate by passing four Regents exams and earning a credential showing that they have the skills for entry-level employment.[CDOS] The Education Department said it could not say how many students had benefited from those changes.
The most recent change will result in another jump in graduations rates; however, will students be “college and career ready?” To put it another way, will high school graduates be able to succeed in college?
The community college completion rates are distressing. For the entering 2014 class in CUNY community colleges only 6.1% earned an associate degree after two years. Staggering numbers of students entering the CUNY system require remediation. According to the New York Times,
… about 80 percent of freshman entering community college in the CUNY system require remediation in reading, writing, math, or some combination of those subjects. Students of color are twice as likely to be assessed as needing remediation as white students. But at the end of one year, only half of all students in remediation have advanced out of those classes. The need for remediation is a chronic problem at community colleges around the country as students graduate from high school without the skills they need for college.
As the Board of Regents nibbles away at the graduation requirements, allowing more students at the edges to graduate are the Regents helping them to move on to college or graduating students who are less able to succeed in college?
The Board of Regents and the State Education Department not only regulate K-12 schools; all colleges in the state require program approval as well as the professions. The Office of the Professions licenses sixty professions and close to a million practitioners ranging from acupuncture, dentistry, medicine, nursing, psychology to public accounting, social workers and veterinary medicine. The Office sets licensing standards for the colleges and institutions that provide training as well as the examinations required for each profession.
The Commissioner and the Chancellor have vigorously supported high entry standards for prospective teachers, are they proposing easing standards to earn a New York State High School diploma? Are they proposing easing the standards for the other professions?
High school graduation exit testing requirements vary widely from state to state, from the SAT and the ACT to PARCC and Smarter Balance tests, the feds require test in English, Math and Science, the new law, the Every Student Succeeds Act requires a 67% graduation rate for all high schools. (Check out detailed federal guidance here)
Over the next few months I expect the folks in Albany will take a deep dive into the question of high school graduation requirements; it is always worthwhile to reflect on current policies before jumping to the “new thing,” the preferred choice of the so-called reformers.
Homework: Read “Has the high school diploma lost all meaning?” and be ready to discuss the article and the suggestion below:
… rethink the high school diploma. Base it on demonstrated competency rather than time in school or Carnegie units compiled. Or consider, …, instituting a multiple-tier system in which college-bound students receive, say, “academic” diplomas, and those who are career-bound get “applied” diplomas that signal more practical things, like responsibility, reliability, or on-the-job skills. This would not be tracking by a different name; both options would have a whole lot in common, and every student would have the option to choose either at any time.
What say you?