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?

The New York State Board of Regents is the policy board that governs K – 16 education and the professions in the state; the Board meets monthly reviews and establishes policies impacting public, charter and parochial schools, equivalency diploma programs, colleges, proprietary schools and the wide range of professions. The commissioner, who leads the State Education Department and implements the policies resigned effective August 31 and the selection process to choose a new commissioner is moving forward.

In July, prior to the commissioner’s resignation the Board embarked upon a review of high school graduation requirements and exit exams.

Goal: To undertake a thoughtful and inclusive process to reaffirm what a New York State high school diploma means and what it ought to signify to ensure educational excellence and equity for all New York State children.

 A few odd words, “reaffirm,” “ought to signify;” although, worthy goals.

In my last blog I reviewed the current graduation requirements. The Regents eliminated the dual diplomas in the 1990’s and phased in a single Regents diploma. In spite of the increased rigor graduation rates continued to increase.

In the 2010-11 school year the Regents reviewed graduation requirements,  forums were convened around the state exploring changes in graduation requirements, and, in March 2011 the commissioner laid out a long list of proposed changes, a few of the suggested changes;

  • Require additional credits in mathematics and science

 Require four years of mathematics and science or the equivalent to ensure college and career readiness based on demonstrated student needs.

  • Increase the passing score on key Regents exams
    • Replace the 0-100 scoring system with a 1-4 cut score system, where a score of 3 indicates “College Readiness.”
  • Require passing additional exams
    • Require students to pass a second Regents exam in mathematics
  • Require a College and Career Ready experience
    • Require all students to take and pass at least one AP, IB or college-level course to prepare them for college levels of rigor

The Regents paased on most of the recommendations and did implement a few of the proposed changes, the CDOS credential and Multiple Pathways through the 4 + 1 path.

The increase in graduation requirements were a response to NAEP (National Assessment of Student Progress), called the “gold standard” in testing.

New York State ranked 34th on 2017 NAEP scores, out of the fifty states in the nation

PISA is a series of international exams that measures achievement in the 35 OECD nations

Key Findings from PISA: The United States remains in the middle of the rankings in the major domains of this assessment cycle. One in five (20%) of 15-year-old students in the United States are low performers.

The United States, and, especially New York State are not doing well.

Should the goal of the review of graduation requirements be to increase graduation rates as well as increase achievements level of students in New York State? Are the goals contradictory?

The lengthy process is attempting to build consensus. The first phase is regional meetings across the state, in each of the thirteen Judicial Districts,

                         Regional Meetings in Each Regent Judicial District:

 At least one meeting in each Judicial District

  • Outreach to a vast array of regional stakeholders and organizations to ensure every region is part of the conversation
  • Format of meetings will provide for discussions to bring ideas forward in a concise, consistent and thoughtful way
  • Ideas and information will be captured in each regional area

The regional meetings are asked to answer “guiding questions,”

Guiding Questions:

  1. What do we want our children to know and to be able to do before they graduate? (A   very general question that the 2010-11 forums suggested were by increasing courses required for graduation, especially in math and science)

    2. How do we want them to demonstrate such knowledge and skills? (Clearly hinting        that  there are alternatives to regents exams)

    3. To what degree does requiring passage of Regents exams improve student achievement, graduation rates and college readiness? (A poor question, “to what degree?”)

    4.What other measures of achievement (e.g., capstone projects, alternative assessments or engagement in civic and community activities) could serve as indicators of high school completion? (Can you scale up from 38 small high schools using portfolios to thousands of schools? Are capstone projects “measures of achievement”? Is there a “valid and reliable” measure of capstone projects across the state?”

  1. How can measures of achievement accurately reflect the skills and knowledge of our special populations, such as students with disabilities and English language learners? (Should different categories of students with disabilities and English language learners meet different measures of achievement? Is this possible under ESSA requirements?)

Based on feedback from Regents on the Guiding Questions, the Internal SED Team will develop the toolkit to host the meetings. The toolkit will be completed by the November Board of Regents meeting.

The next step is the appointment of a “Blue Ribbon Commission,” BTW, how do you define “Blue Ribbon?” Academic achievement? Expert classroom practice?

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

Eventually the commissioner will present the results of the process to the Board with recommendations and sometime in 20-21 school year the Board take actions.

We’re been discussing Regents Examinations out of context. The exams are constructed by classroom teachers and are content tests. Take a look at the August 2019 Regents Examinations in English and American History.

English Language Arts

American History and Government

How did you do?

There are Students with Disabilities who, in spite of the safety net (passing score of 55) and the superintendent waiver process (superintendents can waive the regents exam based upon the student academic record) cannot pass the regents exam. Should all other students continue to take regents exams? Should we seek a “fix” for students unable to meet the safety nets?

English language learners, especially students who entered school at the middle or high school level do not have the language skills to pass Regents exams. Can we devise a safety net for this cohort of students?

Only eleven states have exit exams, should we replace the Regents, as many states have done, with the SAT or ACT? Many states have taken this pathway. See Achieve lisitng of all states graduation requirements and exit pathways here.

Achieve  makes a crucial point,

For high school graduates to be prepared for success in a wide range of post secondary settings, they need to take at least three years of challenging mathematics – covering the contnet generally found in Algebra II or an integrated third year math course – and four years of rigorous English aligned with college and career ready stndards.

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,

One response to “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?

  1. I am continually amazed at how folks in education continually lean towards mediocrity as their panacea for excellence. Thankfully this is not a shared US trend. Just on the east, west and some border states. The rest of the country still sees an educated person as exceptional. Ask yourself this: will Harvard and the other IVY’s when examining a NY students vitae give that student a handicap score based on that students background in NYC’s public school system?No. What they will do is fill their quotas for students of color, group them together, and require at least 6 hours of summer remediation, just to bring them up to minimum literacy skills level. They can learn about sourcing, footnoting, hypothsis and conclusion in a student study group. Yep, sounds fine to me. Oh by the way, they’ll probably learn better if none of their teachers are white. That is what it says here in NYC. lets just create a handbook of excuses that which leave no other choice but to aspire for mediocrity. Lets see, Chapter one..How to make concessions for newly arrived non english speaking immigrants…Chaper two…American History , the great lie…Chapter three, Graduation Dress Code. There you have it.


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