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State officials discuss allowing high schoolers to swap history Regents test for a career exam

State education policymakers moved one step closer to giving students new ways to earn a high school diploma on Monday.

The Board of Regents discussed reducing the number of Regents exams needed to graduate from high school from five to four, setting the stage for a vote next month. Under one proposal, students would still have to pass a fifth exam, but they would be able to choose from a broad menu of tests in fields like culinary arts and carpentry.

The change would also be a slight retreat from the state’s recent efforts to use Regents exams to raise graduation standards. The changes discussed Monday would allow students to swap out one of the two currently required social studies exams—U.S. and global history—since federal requirements mandate that students take English, science and math exams.

Students have needed to pass five Regents exams with grades of 65 or higher to graduate since 2012, and the global history test in particular has been known for standing between some students and a diploma.

Officials noted that they have already identified more than a dozen qualifying alternative exams, including tests in automotive technology, advertising and design, accounting, and agricultural mechanics. Regents also agreed to commission a study to determine whether a comparable arts assessment exists that could be added to the list.

Chancellor Merryl Tisch first previewed the changes in a radio interview earlier this month, saying students were being held back by rigid graduation guidelines.

“This is about an expansion of possibilities for the 21st century economy,” Tisch said.

During a presentation to the Regents on Monday, Charles Szuberla, a state education department assistant commissioner, said broader changes to schools’ career and technical education programs were also needed. Too many students are turned off by the typical high school experience and were then at risk for dropping out entirely, he said.

“We need to do something about the 25 percent of students who don’t do anything at all,” said Szuberla, referring to the roughly one-quarter of students statewide who don’t graduate from high school in four years.

The State Education Department has yet to formally propose new graduation requirements, but officials said that they’re aiming to vote on changes as early as next month.