Is New York State Raising, Lowering or “Adjusting” High School Graduation Requirements?

New York State is in the midst of a deep dive into what they are calling “graduation measures,” read here.

The Board of Regents and State Education Department have undertaken a thoughtful and inclusive review of the State high school graduation measures. Our ultimate goal is to explore what it means to obtain a diploma in New York State and what that diploma should signify to ensure educational excellence and equity for all students in New York State.

John Hildebrand at Newsday lays out the debate here.

Beginning in 2019, interrupted by COVID and resuming on-line the state has held numerous forums; in-person and Zoom. I attended a session at a high school in Brooklyn, a detailed presentation, we divided into small groups, I sat with a high school superintendent, a principal, a couple of teachers and parents, we responded to a number of prompts (a “thought exchange,” read here) one of us took notes, reported back to the entire room, an interesting evening; multiply by dozens of similar events across the state.

At each regional meeting, attendees will have the opportunity to break into smaller groups to discuss and provide feedback to the Department on five guiding questions:

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

2. How do we want all students to demonstrate such knowledge and skills, while capitalizing on their cultures, languages, and experiences?

3. 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 while enabling opportunities for all students to succeed?

4. How can measures of achievement accurately reflect the skills and knowledge of our special populations, such as students with disabilities and English language learners?

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

Why is the Board of Regents/State Education entering into this process?  What is their agenda? Is the final report already written? (These days cynicism is healthy).

Let’s begin with a deep dive of our own.

In the nineties the business community was critical of the value of the high school diploma.  About three/quarters of students received the local diploma, no Regents examinations necessary, they took the RCT (Regents Competency Test), maybe at the 9th grade level. Business organizations and legislators complained; kids were leaving high school with a diploma and minimal literacy and numeracy skills.   After a couple of contentious years the Regents/SED moved to phase-in a Regents only diploma and phase-out the RCT diploma. The phase-in was coupled with a number of safety nets and other adjustments. In spite of initial fears graduation rates continued to increase every year.  See August 2021 Graduation Rates disaggregated here.

Graduation rates are measured by cohort: where are the students four years after entering the ninth grade.

The 2017 Cohort (2021 graduation) Graduation Rate was 86% among all students, 84% are graduating with a Regents diploma, 2% with a local diploma, Black and Hispanic students 80%, Special Education 64%, Dropout Rate 4%. Some students remain in school longer than four years and some Special Education students remain in school until they are 21 and some leave without a diploma.

 Under Every Student Succeeds Act (2015) states are required to test students in reading or language arts and math annually in grades 3-8 and once in grades 10-12, and in science once in each of the following grade spans: 3-5, 6-9 and 10-12. Read here for detailed requirements of ESSA. New York is one of only eleven states with exit exams required for graduation.

Around the world testing is commonplace and stakes can be high, even in Finland, the matriculation examination is very high stakes, the highest achieving nations have rigorous, high stakes testing.

The primary issue bubbling beneath the surface is the question of the Regents, the requirement to pass five Regents Examinations, albeit with a number of safety nets for specific categories of students, and, the state has received a grant to explore alternatives to standardized testing.

Major civil rights organizations are skeptical of reducing the role of the Regents Exams and eliminating the grades 3-8 standardized testing. Due to COVID New York State waived the Regents requirements, Education Trust NY strongly support Regents Examinations and is leading a campaign to assure the exams continue to be offered.

… the widespread use of Regents exemptions in high-need districts, including the Big 5, signals that there may be many students who are underprepared for college or workforce-bound postsecondary pathways. The data findings underscore the need for greater support and resources for high school seniors to ensure that they are prepared for college, careers, and their desired future.

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, representing over 200 organizations across the nation has vigorously supported annual student testing, the just retired Conference leader, Wade Henderson, wrote,

…“I don’t think you can dismiss the role that assessments play in holding educators and states overall responsible for the quality of education provided,” said Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an umbrella group of civil rights advocates that includes the NAACP and the National Urban League. States and school districts that don’t want to deal with the daunting task of improving the achievement of poor students complain about testing as a way of shirking accountability, Henderson said. “This is a political debate, and opponents will use cracks in the facade as a basis for driving a truck through it,” he said.

New York State has received a five year grant to develop a number of performance-based assessment models, called Performance Based Assessment and Learning Networks, see preliminary plans.  The ESSA law did provide for the opportunity to apply for flexibility pilots, a number of states applied, see brief summaries of the pilots here. To the best of my knowledge the New York State project is not part of the ESSA pilot.

New York State appears to be edging away from the required annual grades 3-8 testing and Regents Examinations while major civil rights organizations are on the other side of the fence, fearing the moving away from testing will result in the abandonment of the neediest children.

At the recent American Federation of Teachers convention a resolution (see full text here) was adopted, Equity Through Culturally Responsive, Balanced Assessment Systems,

RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers will call on the U.S. Department of Education to call for changes to the federally mandated testing requirements to allow grade-span testing in lieu of grade-by-grade testing, and allowing locally determined screening and progress-monitoring assessments, that schools may already administer throughout the school year, to be used to meet federal mandates, and will work to include federal funding dedicated for professional learning on assessment in the next ESSA reauthorization;

Perhaps the Board of Regents and the American of Teachers (AFT) can work together on this issue?

Next blog: 

Do current diploma course requirements prepare students to thrive in the world of higher education and the world of work?

Should New York State require high quality curriculum?

2 responses to “Is New York State Raising, Lowering or “Adjusting” High School Graduation Requirements?

  1. Pingback: Graduation Measures: What is the Blue Ribbon Commission and How Will It Impact Education in New York State? | Ed In The Apple

  2. Pingback: Graduation Measures: Will/Should the New York State Regents Examinations Survive? | Ed In The Apple

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