Should New York State Change Graduations Measures?  (Meaning: the courses and student assessments)

The Board of Regents and the 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. (NYSED, Nov 2019)

The Board of Regents and the State Education Department set requirements for high school graduation, parents, teachers and communities are asking: should requirements be upgraded to meet the changing world, and/or, are too many kids dropping out, should we ease the requirements or find other “fixes?” In fall, 2019 the BoR/SED began exploring what they are calling Graduation Measures with the report of a yet to be appointed Blue Ribbon commission due Spring/Summer 2024. Yup, 2024

The BoR/SED is collecting feedback from anyone who decides to participate and begins with two guiding questions.

  1. What knowledge, skills, and/or experiences do you think are important for ALL students to have by the end of high school?(link is external)
  2. How would you like students to show that they have the knowledge, skills, and/or experiences necessary for graduation?

And goes on to ask the following five 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?

The final recommendation will before the Board in the fall of 2024. 

A little history: In the mid nineties the Board “discussed” the same issue, graduation measures, for a couple of years. At that time the state granted two types of diploma, a Regents diploma, completing coursework and passing five regents examinations and the local diploma, requiring passing Regents Competency Tests (RCT), tests far below the academic level of Regents examinations. About two-thirds of students opted for the local diploma.

Employers increasingly were complaining high school graduates had low skills; high schools were not meeting the requirements of the new world of work. The Regents made a dramatic decision, to phase out the RCT tests and move to a single regents diploma. The plan was to lower the regents examination passing grade to 55 and slowly increase to 65 – it took ten years to totally phase out the RCT tests. The Board of Regents, once again, is managing a lengthy, very lengthy dive in Graduation Measures – See the process and calendar here.

The current graduation diploma coursework:

  • 4 years of English + a Regents
  • 4 years of Social Studies (2 years of Global Studies, 1 year of American History, 1 term of Economics and 1 term of Participation in Government + a 10th grade Regents and an American History Regents)
  • 3 years of Mathematics + a Regents, usually Algebra 1
  • 3 years of Science + a Regents

Read the specific course requirements here.

The discussion over the mathematics requirements has been vigorous: is Algebra 1 a barrier to graduation, it has the highest failure rate among all the regents examinations, or, the opposite, the gateway to post secondary success?

The Gates Foundation has provided substantial grants to organizations to design curriculum that will foster higher passing rates in Algebra 1. I wrote about the issue earlier: take a look, it’s a fascinating debate. Read here.

Over the years the Board of Regents has created a number of alternative pathways and safety nets for Students with Disabilities and English language learners and students in general. The Multiple Pathways route is available to all students, usually referred to as the 4 +1 pathway.

Multiple pathways recognize the importance of engaging students in rigorous and relevant academic programs.  The regulations approved in recognize students’ interests in the ArtsWorld Languages, Career and Technical Education (CTE), Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS), Humanities, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) by allowing an approved pathway to meet students’ graduation requirements.


Under the “4+1” pathway assessment option, students must take and pass four required Regents Exams or Department-Approved Alternative assessments (one in each of the following subjects: English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies) and complete a comparably rigorous pathway to meet the fifth assessment requirement for graduation.

The Safety Nets for Students with Disabilities allow for lower passing grades and, in certain circumstances the approval of the superintendent

The appeals, safety nets and superintendents determinations provide for a pathway for every student who passes the course. See details here.

The most recent graduation rate in New York State is 85%; the rate is based on a cohort, students graduating four years after entry into a high school.  See detailed graduation information here.

5% of students dropped out, meaning they stopped attending school prior to their cohort graduating and never graduated. Who are these kids?

NYS, to the best of my knowledge does not track non-graduates.

In my experience English as New Language (ENL) students who enter school in the middle school and high school years may cease going to school, some go to work, others returning to their home country. School districts have not created programs to fit the needs of these students, there are exceptions. The Internationals Network, high schools who enroll students who have been in the country four or fewer years, has been highly successful. Within New York City there are a number of support organizations, organizations function like Charter Management Organizations and are not charters, a model that make charters unnecessary.

The state My Brothers Keeper program has been successful in raising achievement in participating schools.

Other students simply drift away, sadly we can oft times predict dropouts, kids with low academic achievement in the elementary grades who are pushed along and eventually stop attending school. New York City and a few other cities have created transfer schools, small schools targeting over-aged and under credited students, with considerable success.  The Research Alliance for NYC Schools published an excellent report on “persisting students,” Read here

The Graduation Measures site fails to ask,

How many of the students who stopped attending schools experienced homelessness?

How many of the students who stopped attending schools are eligible for Special Education services?

The site also, at this point, fails to address the required Regents Examinations. I have addressed the question of Regents Examinations, aka, exit exams, many times,

Graduation Requirements: Should We Move the Bar Upwards? Read here.

Why I Support Keeping New York State Regents Examinations, Read here.

Response to Why I Support Keeping New York State Regents Examinations, Read here.

Over the next two years we’ll have many discussions of the role of Regents Examinations, Exit Examinations and Portfolios.

BTW, participate in the process, all voices are required.

One thought on “Should New York State Change Graduations Measures?  (Meaning: the courses and student assessments)

  1. I agree with Marc Korashan. I am thankful to have grown up in New York because it has Regents Exams and clearly defined high school graduation requirements. I have always said that, if one had a mediocre teacher for the core academic subjects, the Regents Exams ensured that at least the required minimum of content would be covered. If one had an exceptional teacher, then much more would be covered. The Regents Exam was an insurance policy. At the time that I graduated high school, there were several types of diplomas issued: general, vocational, commercial, academic, and specialized. Each had different requirements. Human beings have a variety of interests and abilities. This is normal, as in the normal distribution. I think that this is appropriate, especially in the Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs that give students marketable skills. English Language Learners should not have to be held to the same standards in English unless they have been given time to learn the language. I would be in favor of high stakes tests in other subjects being administered in their native language or having an English Regents Exam count as their foreign language requirement. I have recently seen the importance of having solid mathematical skills. Many homeowners would not have undergone foreclosures earlier in this century had they understood the difference between simple and compound interest, and fixed rate versus variable rate mortgages. A solid understanding of civics is necessary to participate intelligently in a democratic society. Many, many Americans cannot even name the three branches of government or find countries with whom America has relations or conflicts on a map. We would be farther along in fighting the current pandemic and restoring our economy if Americans had a better understanding of what scientific method entails, had a better understanding of how diseases are transmitted, and how to think critically when evaluating new information. Finally, it is unrealistic to expect students with severe intellectual challenges to adhere to the same standards as those who don’t have them. Let their diplomas reflect the strengths and abilities that they do have.


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