By the end of this school year, high school students may be able to graduate without taking all of the Regents exams currently required.
At present, students must pass five exams in order to receive a Regents diploma: one each in English, math, and science, and two in social studies.
However in October, the New York State Board of Regents gave its first nod of approval to changing these requirements. Students can now elect to drop one of the social studies exams in favor of an alternative assessment. The alternative assessment may be a second math or science exam, an arts or humanities exam, or one of 13 career and technical assessments. The 13 approved tests include certification in carpentry, agricultural mechanics, hospitality management and electronics.
The stated aim in making the change was to ensure that students are more prepared for college and career. According to the State Education Office of Information and Reporting Services, in spite of a state graduation rate of 74.9 percent in 2013, only 37.2 percent of students were deemed “career and college ready.” Those 37 percent earned the designation by receiving at least a 75 on English and an 80 on the math Regents.
In a press release from the State Education Department, Commissioner John King said, “It’s no secret that the U.S. lags behind some of our international competitors when it comes to preparing our students for the jobs of today and the jobs of tomorrow, but New York must lead the way; we can and we will educate our way to the top. And the Regents’ action will help make that possible – by providing challenging new options that will give our students the skills and the knowledge they need to excel in college and in the workplace.”
Education officials also hope the change will improve the overall graduation rate. Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch says that this change will contribute to better engagement, which will help students “persist in school.”
Saugerties Superintendent Seth Turner spoke positively of the change at the October Board of Education meeting, noting that students were able to take career and technical exams years ago. Turner said he, and other school administrators throughout the state, had been “pounding the table” asking to bring career tests back.
State education leaders, though, are sure to point out that these new assessments are more difficult than their predecessors, and should not be perceived as the “easy way out.” Indeed, according to United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, these technical tests “are typically more difficult than tests in many other subjects.”
Chancellor Tisch, too, has been sure to distinguish this pathway from what was known as vocational education. “Vocational education is what used to be, and we know that those programs no longer prepare kids for jobs that are life sustaining, in which someone can have a career into the future and support a family,” said Tisch.