Is It Time to Revise New York State High School Graduation Requirements? Are Exit Exams (Regents) the Best Assessment of Student Achievement?

About twenty-five years ago the New York State Board of Regents began a lengthy discussion around graduation requirements. The state had a dual diploma system, the Regents diploma, requiring five Regents examinations and the Regent Competency Test (RCT), requiring passing RCT tests, about ninth grade level tests. Roughly ¾ of students graduated with the RCT (local), diplomas.

The business community led the movement to a single Regents diploma arguing that the local (RCT) diploma was not preparing student for work or college. After a few years of discussion the Regents began the phase-out of the RCT diploma, it took about ten years. In spite of concerns over graduation rates the rates have continued to edge upwards, albeit with a number of changes.

  • the English Regents was reduced from two days to one day
  • Global Studies was reduced for covering 9th and 10th year curricula to only 10th year
  • A Safety Net for Students with Disabilities – a 55% passing grade
  • Superintendent Determination Option for Students with Disabilities
  • A Multiple Pathways alternative track

At the July Regents meeting an open-ended discussion focused on the exit examinations, the Regents Examinations and the growing number of states no longer requiring exit examinations, there are only eleven. Not surprisingly the headline after the meeting was “Regents Considering Abandoning Regents Tests.”

The graduation rate in New York State has been steadily increasing, the 2014 Cohort (June 2018 graduates) graduation rates retained gains of previous years and generally remained level at 80.4% and continues the upward trend and is 9.5 percentage points higher than it was for the 2004 cohort (70.9%)

If we use a six year gradation rate it is at 84%, with Black, Hispanic and Students with Disabilities far behind; however, the achievement gap is decreasing.

The unexplored questions:

  • Who are the dropouts (students leaving school before their cohort graduates)?
  • And, why did they leave school?

The same questions for the students who remained in school and failed to graduate

  • Who are the students?
  • Why did they fail to graduate?

“L’s” who came as teenagers, stayed in school for a few years and went to work? Students with Disabilities who cannot pass the Regents in spite of the Safety Nets? Chronically absent students who fail subjects? Until we know who the students  are and why they’re failing to graduate it’s not possible to craft policies to address the reasons.

Hopefully the state will take a deep dive into these questions.

Can New York State return to a dual diploma system: Regents and local (RCT) diplomas? Probably not, ESSA requires, “Diplomas that signify less-than-rigorous academic preparation … were the express target of the new requirement in ESSA. No such language was in the previous version of the law, the No Child Left Behind Act. ‘We were trying to address concerns about those weaker diplomas, to put a signal in there to drive states to make sure that diplomas were really preparing students for success,’ said a Senate aide who helped draft the Every Student Succeeds Act.”

Some Regents appear to be leaning towards an “easy fix,” eliminate the Regents examinations, maybe I’m wrong.

A very small group of schools in the state (38), mostly in New York City, called “Consortium”Schools,” have been receiving waivers from State Ed (students only have to pass the English Regents) since the 90’s. Ann Cook, the New York Performance Standards Consortium leader has been the gatekeeper. The Consortium is a not-for-profit who closely supports and chooses the schools.  In lieu of exams the students present and defend research projects, work that takes months to prepare. Is scaling up the Consortium Schools possible? Or, is the very nature of the success of the Consortium: small, closely linked schools supported by a fiercely dedicated leadership the key to success?

There is a much larger question: Are we preparing students adequately for the post-secondary school world of college, work and citizenry? The “right” courses,? The “right” curriculum? The “right” school structures and organizations?

Where are we headed?

Chancellor Rosa set the path:

 “The rigid system is not working for everyone, and too many students – particularly our most vulnerable students – are leaving high school without a diploma. New York and other states are grappling with graduation rates that are improving too slowly, if at all, as well as achievement gaps that reflect pernicious and pervasive opportunity gaps.”

The Regents plan to establish a Blue-Ribbon Commission, while academics are important I hope the business community, parents and teachers play a core role

The Blue- Ribbon Commission will consider whether State exit exams, as a sole measure, improve student achievement, graduation rates, and college readiness; and whether adding other measures of achievement could better serve New York’s diverse student population as indicators of what they know and if they are career and college ready. Could those additional measures of achievement include things like capstone projects, alternative assessments, or engagement in civic and community activities?  

 The goal of the Blue Ribbon Commission appears skewed towards replacing the Regents examinations with other forms of assessments

Goal: Reaffirm what a New York State high school diploma means and what it ought to signify

 Sounds like a visions/mission statement

Revisiting the Issues:

  • Access to multiple graduation measures for all students
  • Real-world skills necessary for post-secondary success
  • New York State exit exam criteria
  • De-facto tracking
  • Consistency of rigor for student learning
  • Preparing all students to successfully pursue college, careers, and opportunities for community engagement and citizenship
  • Barriers to equity

 Is scattershot the correct word?  I would narrow the “issues” to:

  • Are the current course/credit requirements appropriate to prepare student for the current world of work, carrier and citizenry?
  • What specific skills/courses should be taught: coding, statistics, etc.”
  • Should the definition of course/credit requirements begin in the 6th grade?
  • Should State Education work with other state agencies to require on-site internships for students in Career Technical Education (CTE) tracks?

Maybe the Commission will be pursuing my questions,

The purpose of the Commission is to review research, practice and policy and to gather input from across the state, to help inform recommendations to:

  • reconsider current diploma requirements;
  • ensure all students have access to multiple graduation measures; and
  • ensure a transition plan timeline allows time to prepare for and implement any changes.

 The Commission will include representatives from the Big 5, NYSCOSS, NYSSBA, NYSUT, PTA, SAANYS, UFT, District Superintendents, and others.

 The process will attempt to be inclusive, the ESSA inclusion efforts were not particularly satisfactory, and the current proposal is aggressive.

Regents-BOCES District Superintendents-SED Regional Workgroups in Each Judicial District:

  • The purpose of the Regional Workgroups is to gather and provide input into the Commission’s review of research, practices and policies from constituents across the state to help inform the Commission’s work to create recommendations.
  • In each judicial district, a Regional Workgroup will be established (there are thirteen judicial districts, five of which, the five boroughs, are in New York City) to include the Regent, BOCES District Superintendents, the Big 5 City School Districts and a representative from SED to gather feedback from constituents and stakeholders, which can be inclusive of: student voices; advocacy groups; research agencies; workforce representatives; and others to be identified; in that region.

 I would add the regional meetings should be live-streamed and archived. The K-12 Regents Committee meetings, frequently the core of the meetings are not live-streamed.

 Achieve  makes a crucial point,

Graduation rates are an accurate indicator of students graduating high school on time but should not be confused with students graduating with the skills and knowledge needed for entering college or career pathways without remediation. Rigorous course-taking in high school is one of the strongest indicators of postsecondary success, yet many states do not expect all graduates to take the classes or learn the essential content and skills that open doors to their next steps.

 In our rush to raise graduation rates we must not “lower the bar,” as Achieve reminds us, Rigorous course-taking in high school is one of the strongest indicators of postsecondary success,

 Let’s not disadvantage our children in the name of better data.

4 responses to “Is It Time to Revise New York State High School Graduation Requirements? Are Exit Exams (Regents) the Best Assessment of Student Achievement?

  1. The naswers are no, and yes. Unless you want every NY HS graduate to attend a NYS State or Cuny college, then its ok. But if you want them to have access to colleges nationwide, a watered down sorry curriculum isn’t going to hold sway with the out of state colleges.Worse, when the students from NY seek employment they will be 2nd best to students from everywhere else.


  2. Pingback: Can NYS Reach Consensus in a Contentious Climate? Should High School Graduation Requirements Be Reduced or Increased? Should Regents Exams Be Eliminated, Reduced, Replaced or Increased? | Ed In The Apple

  3. Pingback: Do Students in the Big Five, Rural Schools and Low-Wealth Districts Receive the Same Rigorous, Robust, Well-Balanced, Coherent Curriculum as Students in High-Wealth Districts? | Ed In The Apple

  4. Pingback: Do NYS Graduation Measures Adequately Prepare Students for Career and/or College? | Ed In The Apple

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