New York education officials agreed Monday that they want to offer more ways to earn a high school diploma — but had different ideas about how those new options should work.
The discussion among the members of the Board of Regents on Monday focused on three proposals put forward by the state education department. The proposals would expand the appeals process for students who barely fail a Regents exam, allow students to substitute a skills-based certificate for a Regents exam, and push the state to develop new project-based assessments.
Some Regents said they wanted project-based assessments available to all students, not just those who fail an exam. Others voiced broader concerns about the skills certificate and an attendance requirement for students who want to appeal a Regents score.
Still others, after watching fellow Regents puzzle over the differences between current graduation options, said the problem is understanding what’s already available.
“There’s confusion here,” Regent Kathleen Cashin said. “It’s important that our policies be simple and clear.”
The discussion was meant to give the Regents, who approve education policy changes, a chance to offer initial feedback to the State Education Department officials who craft the rules. Both the Regents and department officials say they want to make sure students aren’t shut out of a traditional diploma as the state raises its standards.
(Graduation rates have continue to increase statewide, but students must now pass five Regents exams with a score of 65, instead of a 55. The tests are also scheduled to become harder as the state aligns them to the Common Core standards.)
With this in mind, the first measure would extend an existing appeals process for students who just missed a passing score. Currently, students can appeal their score if they score between a 62 and 64. If approved, the new measure would allow students to appeal scores of 60 or higher.
But, as Regents pointed out at the meeting, there are strings attached to the current appeals process. Students must pass the course in question and have a 95 percent attendance record, among other requirements.
Some took issue with the attendance requirement. At the urging of Chancellor Merryl Tisch, who joked, “My mother never let me stay home,” Regent Betty Rosa offered a few reasons why a high attendance rate isn’t possible for every student. Some can’t get a doctor’s note when they are sick because they don’t have insurance or they have to translate for their families in court, she said.
State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said the education department will consider changing the attendance requirement.
Another of the state education department’s proposals would allow students who failed a traditional Regents exam to pass project-based assessments. These assessments would be performance-based and require students to complete a series of computerized tasks.
The option sounded so good to some Regents that they wondered whether it should be expanded to all students, even those who don’t fail the Regents exams to begin with.
Elia said that the education department is looking to start small, possibly with a pilot in a willing school district. In the meantime, the department will have to find resources even to develop tests, she said.
“It is an expensive venture,” Elia said.
The final proposal would allow a Career Development and Occupational Studies Commencement Credential to be substituted for a fifth Regents exam required for graduation. Though the credential is currently only available to students with disabilities, the graduation pathway would become an option for all students.
Though the measure is intended to help students with disabilities, Rosa said she doesn’t know if the CDOS credential is helping students, and worried about expanding its influence.
Some of the proposals could be implemented more quickly than others. In a brief interview after the meeting, Elia said she hopes a new appeals process will be approved in the coming months.
Developing project-based assessments will take more time, she said. In the end, she hopes Regents will consider the final proposals brought by the education department.
“It was obvious to me that people are calling for us to recognize that in every circumstance, everybody isn’t always the same,” Elia said.