Graduation Requirements: Should We Move the Bar Upwards?

Occasionally at the end of a class when a kid was leaving room s/he would say, “Gee Mr. G; that was really hard.” I smiled; I knew I was doing my job.

I knew if students came to my class every day, and stayed engaged, the Regents Examination would be a breeze.  In my first period class I would bring a box of donut holes, enough for half the class, first come, first served: I had surprisingly good attendance at 8 am.

The Board of Regents (BOR) and the New York State Department of Education (NYSED) are engaged in a lengthy review of high school graduation requirements, called Graduation Measures: view the webpage here.

Regional Meetings will be held across the state from now until April, see the date, time and location of the meetings here.

The format of the meetings will be tables of attendees, facilitated by the host district, discussing five questions. Read a thorough description of the process here,

The five questions:

 

  1. What do we want students to know and to be able to do before they graduate?

 

  1. How do we want students to demonstrate such knowledge and skills?

 

  1. How do you measure learning and achievement (as it pertains to the answers to #2 above) to ensure they are indicators of high school completion?

 

  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?

 

  1. What course requirements or examinations will ensure that students are prepared for college and careers or civic engagement?

 

Unfortunately the public debate has almost entirely dealt with Regents Examinations.

Should the exams be continued? Abolished? Reduced in importance? Should portfolios replace the exams? Should the exams be part of a composite grade, and, if so, how much should the exams count?

The five questions supra have pretty much been ignored.

I wrote supporting retaining Regents Examination here  as did Alan Singer here.

Marc Korashan, an experienced educator demurred here and, the former # 2 at the New York City Department of Education, Eric Nadelstern commented,

The single most devastating condemnation of American education is that our high schools haven’t changed since 1968 (or 1896 more likely). However, schools such as those in the Consortium have developed time-tested structures and instructional approaches for the past 35 years. It’s long overdue that we’ve finally decided to pay attention to our successes with an eye toward how these break the mold schools can infirm systemic secondary education reform.

What dies “break the mold” schools mean?

 Jeanette Deuterman, the leader of Long Island Opt Outs argues that Regents scores should be part of a composite score, and a minor part, she calls the process, “Do Not Harm.” (Read here)

I fear limiting the discussion to Regents Exams is short sighted. Is the primary goal to increase graduation rates or to prepare students for the world after high school?

We know that students who barely pass Regents do poorly in community colleges. The retention rates are abysmal. We also know that City College and Baruch, two CUNY schools lead the nation in moving students out of poverty into the middle class.(See Raj Chetty research here) and both entrance requirements and coursework are rigorous.

The My Brothers Keeper (MBK) initiative in  a number of unscreened Hudson Valley high schools have produced impressive results for Young Men of Color. (Read description of practices here).

Success in the MBK schools:  rigorous is instruction, access to advance coursework including Advanced Placement classes, in other words keeping  the bar high.

I fear we are edging towards moving the bar lower.

At a New York City Council hearing an invited guest asked, “Why did I have to take Algebra 1, I was never going to use it,” to applause from the audience.

As I review data on the New York State data portals and the New York City school performance dashboards fewer and fewer students move up ladder. After passing Algebra 1 fewer students take the Geometry Regents and fewer still take the Algebra 2 Regents. How many schools even offer pre-calculus, or, heaven forbid, Advanced Placement Math courses. The same can be said for science, after Living Environment fewer take Chemistry and very few take Physics, in fact, how many schools even offer Physics?  Do high schools offer Computer Science courses? How about basic computer skills, such as, Power Point, Excel and other basic computational skills?

Is Accounting offered in any high schools?

The debate should move away from the narrow discussions about the future of Regents Examinations and move to the first question at the Regional Meeting,

What do we want students to know and to be able to do before they graduate?

A just released research paper from Education Next, “End the ‘Easy A’: Tougher grading standards set more students up for success might move us in a better direction.

Seth Gershenson writes,

My results confirm that “everyone gets a gold star” is not a victimless mentality. Not only do students learn more from tougher teachers, but they also do better in math classes up to two years later. The size of these effects is on the order of replacing an average teacher with one near the top of her game.

 Parents faced with stressed-out children and an increasingly competitive college-admissions process may resist calls for more-rigorous grading. Educators and school leaders may be tempted to satisfy them, which is part of how the grade-inflation problem was created to begin with. But policymakers and other decision-makers would deserve a genuine A if they reminded parents, principals, and teachers that they aren’t doing students any favors by depriving them of appropriate academic challenges or an accurate picture of their knowledge, skills, and abilities.

It’s twenty-five years since we discussed graduation requirements: we better get it right!

2 responses to “Graduation Requirements: Should We Move the Bar Upwards?

  1. I have always said that the NYS Regents exams are an insurance policy. A so so teacher will cover the material he or she knows will be tested; a really good teacher will go much farther, using the Regents requirements as a base rather than a ceiling. As for those people who ask, “Why do I have to learn (fill in the blank)?”, it has been my experience that one always finds a use for one’s skills. Example: I recently watched a show about people building a house off the grid. The designer wanted a circular roof made in nine pieces, each in a wedge shape. He made a small error in trigonometry which cost the crew a lot of time and effort to correct, but ultimately his knowledge of how to manipulate angles and shapes produced a spectacular and unique building.
    Don’t we want engaged citizens ready to participate in a democratic society? Don’t we want people who can replace us in every field necessary for functioning in the real world ? Grade inflation has consequences when real skills are needed. If we are to remain competitive internationally, we must be honest with our students about their strengths and challenges. More importantly, we must believe that they can achieve more than the bare minimum. By expecting less we tell them that they are less. If students in other developed countries can adhere to high standards why not American students?

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  2. Pingback: Should New York State Change Graduations Measures?  (Meaning: the courses and student assessments) – Ed in the Apple: Blogging on the Intersection of Education and Politics Title

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