New York State School Boards Association

Regents plan to create commission to reconsider diploma requirements

by Cathy Woodruff

On Board Online • July 22, 2019

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

The Board of Regents has launched an initiative to re-evaluate New York's high school diploma requirements and announced the creation of a new "blue ribbon" commission to recommend revisions.

The commission membership is expected to overlap with a "working stakeholder group" that is to include NYSSBA and organizations representing superintendents, parents, teachers and administrators, as well as business leaders and representatives from higher education.

Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa first proposed rethinking the state's requirements for high school graduation in a commentary published in the Feb. 25 issue of On Board. In that column, she wrote: "Too many students - particularly our most vulnerable students - are leaving high school without a diploma."

She wrote: "It will be a difficult conversation for New Yorkers. But I and other Regents view it as essential."

Kimberly Young Wilkins, SED's new deputy commissioner for P-12 instructional support, outlined an "ambitious" timeline for the workgroup, culminating with final recommendations in the summer of 2020 and consideration by the Regents in the fall of 2020.

The Regents discussed possible changes for more than an hour on July 15. They focused on what alternatives to existing requirements (passing four or five Regents exams with a score of 65 or higher) would best expand and promote opportunities for students - particularly disadvantaged and minority students.

Questions for the commission would include whether passing state Regents exams should continue to be required, what a high school diploma signifies in New York, and how students should demonstrate their proficiency through alternative "pathways" to graduation.

Some Regents expressed concern that expanding non-Regents exam alternatives would lead to "tracking" of some students, particularly African-American youths, into less-rigorous and less-respected courses of study. That would limit opportunities available to those students after high school.

Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and some Regents urged that the diploma work proceed with awareness of work already underway to reconsider and revise teacher certification requirements in New York.

Current certifications - and available teachers who hold those certifications - don't always match the needs of school districts, Elia noted.

"We have a lot of work to do here," she said, and "this will require a shift in teacher certification, as well."

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