Usage of the state’s new graduation pathways – which let students bypass one of five required Regents exams – grew slightly in the Capital Region in the second year the pathways were an option for students.
Just over 5 percent of teens who graduated in 2018 did so thanks to one of a handful of new graduation options, up from 4.3 percent of graduates in 2017. Implementation of the new graduation options, though, varies widely across district, according to state graduation data released last month.
While about a dozen school districts in the region reported no students graduating under a pathway option – including North Colonie, Mohonasen, Ballston Spa and others – more than half of the graduates in Cobleskill-Richmondville and Sharon Springs last year utilized one of the new paths to graduate.
In Schenectady city schools, approximately 8 percent of 2018 graduates benefited from using a pathway option. Eighteen students earned a diploma through the CDOS pathway, which requires students to earn work-study credits, develop an employment portfolio and pass a career assessment before graduating.
District officials have indicated the number of students utilizing the pathway options may grow in the coming years.
“This year that continues to grow,” Schenectady High School Principal Diane Wilkinson said of the CDOS pathway at a school board meeting earlier this month.
To graduate high school in New York students have long been required to pass a battery of Regents exams. Those exams – in math, science, English Language Arts, and two social studies subjects – remain core to the state’s graduation requirements.
But students can now also graduate through what state officials call a “four-plus-one” pathway. The pathway option allows students to swap out one of two social studies Regents exams, if they instead pass an additional test in another subject: a second test in math, science or English, specifically. Students can also satisfy the four-plus-one pathway by earning a career and technical accreditation, demonstrating proficiency in the arts or earning a career development credential, which previously had been available to just special education students.
Usage of the pathway options last year grew more rapidly across the state than in the Capital Region: state officials reported more than 11,000 students statewide graduated with through a new pathway last year, an increase of 13 percent over 2017. State officials also expect use of the pathway options to grow in the coming years.
“We anticipate as districts (improve pathway resources for students), more kids will have this opportunity from ninth grade and more will go down this path,” state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said last month when the state released graduation data.
Even in districts that haven’t seen much proliferation of students using the pathway options, district officials say the appreciate the flexibility the new graduation options provide students.
“They are a great opportunity for students to be able to personalize their education,” Duanesburg Superintendent Frank Macri said. While Duanesburg originally reported having no students graduate under a pathway option last year, Macri said one student had used the option. “I do think over the years you will see more.”
Some districts have already started to see more students use the pathway options. In Cobleksill-Richmondville, for instance, 48 of the district’s 101 graduates used the science pathway to meet their graduation requirements. Cobleskill-Richmondville Superintendent Carl Mummenthey couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.
Across the region and state, the science alternative pathway was the most widely used option, allowing students to pass an extra science exam instead of a second social studies exam.
In Schenectady, Superintendent Larry Spring said the district does not start out thinking students won’t be successful passing the five Regents exams. But the pathways provide an option for students who end up struggling with one of the social studies tests, he said.
“We don’t generally program with that intention, we don’t start off with a student in ninth grade and say let’s plan for not taking a Regents,” said Spring during the meeting earlier this month. “Quite often we find for some kids that global studies can be a tough exam… and those kids might have a lot more interest and are willing to put a whole lot more effort into something that is career-based rather than ancient history.”
'Not an easy ride'
As the Board of Regents approved the new graduation pathways in recent years, education policymakers have debated whether they represented a weakening of graduation requirements.
But the board ultimately decided that providing greater options to students would give students a chance to demonstrate skills and pursue interests not facilitated under the old standards.
People have also raised concerns about whether all districts would have the same resources to offer the pathways to their students, while others have fretted that districts may track certain students into the pathways. State officials have said they have yet to seen patterns emerge about how the pathways are being used across the state.
During the Schenectady board meeting, a group of culinary students joined teacher Laura Macey to showcase how the expanded offerings can serve students who might otherwise never reach the graduation stage.
“Mrs. Macey has taken me on quite an adventure,” Schenectady High senior Wes Brunson said at the meeting. “Without her I wouldn’t know where to go after high school. ...I probably would have dropped out and had nothing to do.”
Macey, who earlier this year was named the city school district’s teacher of the year, told the school board that the specialized and career-targeted graduation options were no easier than the traditional route to graduation. She also emphasized the value in preparing students for jobs and careers in a variety of fields that don’t necessarily require students go on to a four-year college.
“That’s one of the nice things about career and technical: we can give some guidance and purpose,” Macey said. “CDOS is not an easy ride, CTE is not easy… these young people have to be top notch and know everything.”