New York considers overhauling high school graduation requirements and reducing reliance on regents exams

New York eyes updates to graduation requirements incorporating real-world skills, vocational training, trauma exemptions, and fewer mandatory regents exams.

The New York State Board of Regents is considering significant changes to high school graduation requirements across the state, following recommendations put forward by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Graduation Measures.

The proposed changes aim to modernize the requirements and provide more flexibility for students to demonstrate their skills and knowledge.

Commission Recommends Reducing Reliance on Regents Exams

One of the most controversial recommendations involves reducing or modifying the number of Regents exams students must pass in order to graduate high school. Regents exams have been a cornerstone of New York’s graduation requirements since the mid-1990s, when passing 5 exams became mandatory.

However, the commission found that these exit exams may not be the best way for all students to demonstrate readiness for graduation. Critics argue that over-reliance on exams fails to account for students’ work throughout high school and can penalize those who struggle with standardized testing.

The commission suggests developing statewide rubrics for performance-based assessments such as presentations, projects, and portfolios to provide alternatives. These could potentially be used in conjunction with or in place of certain Regents exams to meet graduation requirements.

The proposed changes have raised concerns among some that it could amount to lowering standards. However, proponents say it would better capture the range of skills students develop in high school, not just test-taking ability.

One Diploma Would Replace Current Three-Tiered System

Another major recommendation involves collapsing the current three types of diplomas – local, Regents, and Regents with advanced designation – into a single diploma. Students could still earn seals or endorsements in civic readiness or biliteracy to denote specialization.

According to state education leaders, this change would simplify the current diploma system, which confuses colleges, employers, and families. They believe a single diploma designation would be easier to understand while allowing students to highlight specific skills.

Expanded Credit Requirements Proposed

The commission put forward suggestions to expand credit requirements for graduation. Potential additions include financial literacy, ethics, cultural competence, and real-world writing skills.

Rather than mandating specific courses, requirements could be organized into broader categories like STEM or humanities. This would provide more flexibility for students to pursue relevant classes tailored to their interests and goals.

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Access to career and technical education, internships, and work-based learning is also emphasized in the recommendations. The goal is to equip students with practical skills for life after graduation.

Exemptions for Students Facing Major Hardships

Under the proposal, students dealing with significant cognitive disabilities, trauma, medical conditions, or major life events could be exempt from exam requirements.

Proponents say this recognizes that certain students face major obstacles that can unfairly impede their ability to graduate, even if they have completed coursework. Offering exemptions aims to make graduation requirements more equitable.

What to Expect?

The New York Board of Regents will spend the next several months reviewing the commission’s recommendations and deciding which potential changes to pursue.

Any modifications must go through a formal regulatory process, likely taking over a year to enact. Any changes would not impact the class of 2024.

Some modifications, such as curriculum adjustments, may require more time to phase in across all districts. However, state education leaders believe updating outdated graduation policies is necessary to serve today’s students better.

The recommendations have garnered praise from groups like the New York State Teachers Union, which says they recognize that each student learns differently. However, the proposals also generate some skepticism from those worried about maintaining rigor.

As the Regents weigh the best path forward, debate will continue over balancing high standards and accountability with flexibility and equity for New York’s diverse student population. However, widespread agreement exists that the status quo needs improvement.

The commission’s report marks a critical first step in reevaluating graduation requirements. While specifics must still be hashed out, the state appears poised to make impactful changes that could shape the high school experience for future generations.