Do New York State High School Graduation Requirements Prepare Students for College and/or Work? Are We Graduating Under-Prepared Students? or, Are The Requirements Ill- Suited to the Current World?

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.

Chalkbeat and the New York Times followed up with articles, read here  and here.

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?

8 responses to “Do New York State High School Graduation Requirements Prepare Students for College and/or Work? Are We Graduating Under-Prepared Students? or, Are The Requirements Ill- Suited to the Current World?

  1. Ask the colleges. They will tell you that more and more of NYC and NYS High school students planning to attend college are having to attend pre freshman summer classes in remedial literacy skills ..Writing and Public Speaking classes are the ones most heavily subscribed to. Also in some of the colleges and universities, freshman are also being limited to the minimum number of credits allowable to maintain full matriculation status(12) while being required to attend student to student help seminars. So yes, NYS and NYC owing to their pree occupation with lowering standards so as to create the impression of improvement are in effect promoting mediocrity and not excellence.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If the remediation rates are so high at colleges, then blame NCLB and the narrow focus of a standards driven education. The students who are not able to graduate high school with a diploma are not the ones causing the problem with remediation in language for freshman college students.

    I also have to wonder, since it is never broken out: How many students in community college that require remediation in ELA are ENL students? Are they all recent high school graduates, or are they returning to school as adults? How many students who do not complete an Associates Degree in two years are also working full time? How many are students with a language based disability that should be getting supports rather then remediation?

    Under standards based education models; students barely have the opportunity to read novels any more. Writing has been parsed down to a five paragraph essay that can be graded by a matrix, with the goal of these essays being graded by computer. They no longer can write without a prompt first. That is because of standards, not graduation requirements.

    The Common Core ELA regents exam main essay consists of reading four articles, then pulling quotes from those articles to support an opinion on those articles. There is no ‘free thought’ involved.

    As for opportunities for students with disabilities, there are good job training resources and placement services for adults with disabilities. You cannot apply to those services, like Access-VR, with out a high school diploma.

    Finally, there was a time, decades ago, when a high school diploma was not the base line for full time employment. A great example is a school district that had students ‘complete’ high school with a CDOS, then post a job for entry level custodial work that required a high school diploma.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. First of all the meeting was on Monday not Tues – so the mere fact that you couldn’t get that straight scares me


  4. Requiring 5 exit exams for a diploma is absurd. If it was working we wouldn’t be looking at dismal results like this. Tests impact curricula. Tests impact what is covered. In the schools serving future community college students, the instruction often resembles test prep. Fear of school closures, bad evaluations and admin harassment are leading to dry, uninspired and low quality instruction. Constant changes to expectations based on tests and shifting cut scores cause ripples. There is also the reality of the absolute profit focused greed of test makers and publishers. They are dead set on justifying spending $$$$$$$$ on more tests, on books and tablets and remediation. End all regents exams. If an exit exam is desired in NYS, it should be 1 exam, portfolio work as done in consortium schools should be acceptable. Every other cent should be invested directly into the system. Equity, innovation, restoration of cut programs. Never again should parents have to clamor for their child’s dignity and future because of bureaucratic obstacles that fail to see the scope of human abilities, interests, and goals and reduce the measure of those to a flawed exam.


  5. Let’s back up here and talk Common Core standards. That’s the real problem. The narrowed standards result in expectations and curriculum that are sub par. Now poorly constructed Regents exams are tied to these standards and directly to graduation from high school. On to the recent Board of Regents decision (which, by the way, was Monday). This was a necessary move given the current requirements. There are plenty of students who met all the requirements and were unable to pass one exam. This could result in exiting with just a CDOS. This bars these young adults from the following options: US military, any two or four year college or university and most places of employment. You cannot even apply to a supermarket for a cart attendant job without a high school diploma.This decision opens up a world of possibilities for these young adults. Place your questioning somewhere else. The CDOS requires a tremendous amount of time, effort and dedication but cannot stand alone as an exit credential. Give these young adults credit for their hard work, they deserve it. Have you ever worked with any, have a child with a disability? This literally changes their life path and that’s huge.


  6. My 19 year old twins do grade level modified work. They make honor roll EVERY quarter. They work very hard and are very conscientious. They passed their math regents, global history, science, but they are not able to pass the English regents because or their disability. My sons deserve a high school diploma. NOT everyone needs to go to college but you do need a High School Diploma for certain jobs. Those of you who don’t support this change in diploma requirements just don’t get it. Come meet my children and then tell me that they don’t deserve a High School Diploma.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It should be very clear that the change in the requirement for a local diploma is a reality that has been advocated for more than five years. Upon the phasing out of the RCT (Regents Competency Tests) students with disabilities were faced with inequity. While the State was implementing Common Core Standards, RCT’s were phased out because they were “not in line with Common Core.” Parents were told this by several Regents Board members. While students who have continuously worked hard to pass their Regents level classes , the rug was pulled out from under them and theae students were forced to pass five Regents exams with a 55 (there is a 35-page spreadsheet on how to graduate with a diploma in NY State). Through the advocacy of parents, elected officials, school administrators and the media, students with disabilities were offered to apply for a Superintendent’s waiver if they passed all their Regents classes and the ELA and Math Regents.
    Make no mistake…Students who earn a CDOS and attempt the Regents exams while passing all their Regents classes also work 216 hours outside of school in order to earn their CDOS CERTIFICATE and are now being fairly recognized and will receive a local diploma. And now they will be able to –if they choose to–apply for entry level work with a union, join the military, go to trade school or community college–does anyone really have a problem with that? These kids are hard-working citizens who deserve options in life. Those options were taken away when RCT’s were phased out for this incredible population of students. Let’s be realistic…it makes sense.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Christine Keller

    I am a college professor and have two children, one of whom is in college and the other in high school. Based on my personal and professional experience, the implementation of Common Core Curriculum only exacerbated existing problems in education and therefore, colleges were taking additional steps for remediation. Our “one-size-fits-all” curriculum and approach to education is the issue! Writing is a particular struggle for many student across the board and high schools do little to teach writing or other skills. Testing is the priority and test prep does not reflect what is required at the college level. So, “College and Career Ready” is a farce. NCLB is what started this downwards spiral with high stakes testing, etc. which took away from truly educating our students. And, NYS compounded it by requiring the one, primary pathway to a diploma, Regents (more teaching to the test). Everyone learns differently and if we only had a single pathway to a diploma in the past, many of us would not have graduated from high school. The CDOS now tied to a diploma is merely reinstating what is equitable. I am hopeful that additional avenues to a diploma will be created for ALL students. Students in general education programs need to have the opportunity for a “local” (or now CDOS) or a portfiolio option (as the NYS Consortium Schools use as a form of assessment).


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