State education officials Monday launched a yearlong process that could result in a major overhaul of the state's mashup of graduation requirements.
The Education Department plans to establish a commission this fall charged with reviewing the state's high school diploma requirements and making recommendations for changes to the Board of Regents as soon as next summer, according to a presentation during Monday's Regents meeting.
While the Board of Regents' discussion about the plans – which some Regents said was an overly-aggressive timeline – left open all possible outcomes, it provided a look into the kinds of ideas that will be on the table as the debate over the state's future diploma moves forward. The state's five Regents exams, necessary for graduation? On the table. The state's 22 required course credits? On the table. Some members of the Board of Regents opened the discussion to include the state's entire education system, calling for a focus on the disparities in access to educational opportunities across districts that permeate beginning in the earliest grades.
“Is there gonna be exit exams?” State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia asked in introducing the kinds of issues that will be on the table. “That is something that is a history in New York state... Do we keep those exams or do we open it up?”
Elia, who has worked with the Regents in recent years to establish new routes for students to graduate, said the state needed diploma requirements that were clear and understandable.
“It is so convoluted sometimes when you look at our graduation requirements,” Elia said. “We have to make them more focused and move our students to the right place.”
The Regents touched on a need to maintain rigor in the graduation requirements and battle against criticisms that could fuel a “narrative” that efforts to change the state's diploma requirements are a degradation of standards.
However, much of the conversation centered on ensuring that new diploma requirements would help address the broader disparities in the system, with some board members pointing out that few high schools recently recognized as the highest performing in the state educated racially diverse student populations.
“There is an opportunity gap in this state,” Regent Judith Johnson said. “We need to ask ourselves what is it we can do to improve opportunities to be successful for all students.”
“How can you make decisions about a diploma without taking into account whether we have provided all of the things that constitutionally we are required to provide to children?” Regent Luis Reyes said.
The Regents urged Education Department staff to make certain to reach out to people across the state as it gathers input into the graduation requirements. The commission would not only include stakeholders from groups that represent the interests of teachers, administrators and school boards, but students, parents, researchers and others as well. The process would also include forums around the state and multiple discussions at Board of Regents' meetings.
While some of the board members suggested the timeline was overly ambitious, both members and department staff agreed that the undertaking was enormous. After landing on changes to the diploma requirements, the board will have to change a litany of regulations and transition with enough time that students and families are well aware of what the new expectations are.