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Tisch: State wants to change New York’s graduation requirements

The state wants to change a rigid set of high school graduation requirements so that students will have more flexibility in how they earn their diplomas, a top education official said on Tuesday.

Students have needed to pass five Regents exams with grades of 65 or higher to graduate since 2012. Under a proposal that Chancellor Merryl Tisch previewed during a radio interview, students would only need passing marks on four of the tests.

The five exams include a math, English, and science test as well as two history exams. Tisch said the new proposal would allow students to swap out one of those exams for an assessment in a subject that they might be better at or more interested in.

Tisch said the extra flexibility would be a boon for students whose skills aren’t well measured by traditional coursework. Students who are interested in a career and technical education topic, like information technology or construction, or who excel in the arts, could be assessed in one of those disciplines, she said. Math and science-oriented students could also swap out a required history exam to take an extra physics or calculus test.

The Board of Regents discussed idea of offering “multiple pathways” to a diploma in May, and Tisch said they would talk about it again at this month’s meeting in Albany on Sept. 15. A formal proposal would likely be voted on in October.

The change is a slight retreat from the state’s recent efforts to use Regents exams to raise graduation standards. The state rolled out the new standards years before fully implementing them 2012, when for the first time seniors were required to score a 65 or higher on the five Regents exams. Before 2012, students could earn a 55 or higher on some of the tests and still graduate, but with a so-called local diploma. That option now is only available to students with disabilities or ones who successfully appeal their scores.

The change didn’t affect statewide graduation rates, but advocates for students with special needs and English language learners say that the standards have amounted to a restrictive, one-size-fits-all approach.

One such case was Jessica Fuentes, whose plight as a 20-year-old former high school student struggling to pass her Regents exams under the new standards were reported by Chalkbeat. Another student failed a single Regents exam 11 times, a case that Tisch at the time labeled the “poster child for why we need multiple pathways.”

In an interview on Tuesday, Tisch said the changes were not about lowering standards, but an opportunity to break away from stodgy requirements that alienate students and a step toward improving the way high schools prepare students for work once they leave.

“This is not about diminishing standards,” Tisch said. “This is about an expansion of possibilities for the 21st century economy.”

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