BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — Should the state continue to require high school students to take regents exams to graduate? New York State education leaders are taking a hard look at potential changes to the regents.
7 Eyewitness News senior reporter Eileen Buckley talked to some local education leaders about potential revisions to regent requirements.
"This is long overdue. I think that our young people come from such diverse backgrounds – we need to have options to fit those diverse backgrounds,” said Charlene Watson, principal, Burgard High School in Buffalo.
Watson tells 7 Eyewitness News the system of requiring students to pass five regents to graduate with a regents diploma "does not apply anymore."
“It’s absolutely a struggle. I probably have five E&L students in summer school right now who did not graduate because they were unsuccessful in passing all five regents exams and it's disappointing,” declared Watson.
Watson said regents testing, which is now more than 150-years old, is not a system that “one shoe fits all.”
“We have E&L students, we have special education and general educational students - all with different needs must be met,” Watson commented.
“But do you think the regents should go away completely?” asked Buckley.“Oh, absolutely not. We have student who could get advanced designation diplomas and they should also have those options. To get that regents diploma or the regents advanced designation diploma,” replied Watson.
“We need to start as soon as we can,” remarked Dr. Catherine Fisher Collins, Regent for Western New York.
Collins says the regents should remain, but a local diploma should also be created.
“I think we need to give our kids an option – they need to leave here able to go into the military, work into various crafts,” Collins explained. “A program that prepares them for a good job.”
Burgard already provides a program for students to learn trades, but they still need to gain their regents diploma.
In February Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa raised concerns saying 60-percent of states do not require the tests to graduate. She pointed to achievements gaps in high school graduation rates and wants a full regents review. A commission will be created.
Regent Collins is recommending principal Watson be on the Blue-Ribbon panel from Buffalo.
“I don’t want the public to think that we are getting rid of something that really tests our children at a higher-level skill. People tend to think that our kids can’t perform on any test - I want to show them that yes—we have some very bright young people – very smart young people in this district,” stated Collins.
Collins tells us she’s not sure how other regent members will respond with their ideas to what to do with the testing.
“I’m not sure how the other regents feel. I know how I feel. I think we should have exams that will really prepare you to go off to college,” Collins noted.
Collins does not want this to be considered a ‘dumbing down’ with any changes they create.
The commission will be formed over the next month, but final recommendations for the regents testing won't be made until the fall of 2020.
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We reached out to the New York State Department of Education (NYSED) for comments on this future process. The department issued the following statement and information:
"At the July 2019 Meeting, the Board of Regents discussed the process to review diploma options in New York State, to be clear,there has been no discussion on specific diploma options at this point and no decisions have been made."
“The Regents remain committed to moving forward with its review of what is necessary to earn a diploma in New York State. No decisions have been made at this point. The draft timeline presented at the July 2019 meeting was just that – draft – and the Board wants to ensure ample time is provided to select members of the Commission and for it to carry out its work. The Board of Regents and the State Education Department have made it a priority to allow students to demonstrate their proficiency to graduate in many ways. As we have said, this is not about changing our graduation standards. It’s about providing different avenues – equally rigorous – for kids to demonstrate they are ready to graduate with a meaningful diploma," Emily DeSantis, Spokesperson, New York State Education Department.
The following contains remarks from Chancellor Rosa:
"Time to Rethink New York’s High School Diploma” by Betty A. Rosa, Chancellor, NYS Board of Regent.
Last month, the State Education Department announced graduation rates for the class of 2018 – that is, those students who began ninth grade in 2014. The release of graduation rate data always generates a great deal of public interest. People want to know how their children are performing, how the schools in their communities and in their state are doing, and whether their investment in the education system is paying off.
The results this year are very similar to the results we have seen in each of the last several years. The graduation rate continues to slowly edge up, but stubborn gaps in achievement persist – gaps that separate students of color, students with disabilities, English language learners, and low-income students from their peers who are white and attend school in low-need districts. On the one hand, it is encouraging to see signs that indicate we are moving in the right direction. On the other hand, by any objective measure the rate of improvement is far too slow. Simply put, the system is not working for everyone, and too many students – particularly our most vulnerable students – are leaving high school without a diploma.
To be sure, New York is not alone in this. Other states are grappling with graduation rates that are improving too slowly, if at all, as well as achievement gaps that reflect pernicious and pervasive opportunity gaps. That’s why policymakers in other states have begun the hard work of rethinking what a high school diploma means and what it ought to signify. And that’s why I believe it is time for New York to begin this difficult conversation as well.
The good news is that the Board of Regents and the Education Department have the will and the know-how to begin a serious discussion of this fraught topic. We recently tackled similarly big issues – with great success – when we revised the State’s learning standards and when we adopted our ESSA plan. Those experiences are instructive in pointing the way forward. In each case, the final product resulted from a lengthy process that was collaborative, deliberative, and transparent. Each involved gathering input from many partners, including parents, teachers, and school administrators, as well as representatives of higher education, the business community, and the general public.
We all remember the strong pushback that followed New York’s rushed implementation of the Common Core standards, State assessments, and teacher evaluations. We worked to avoid that experience when we revised the learning standards and when we adopted the ESSA plan – and we will be similarly thoughtful and deliberate as we begin to consider what students should know and be able to demonstrate to earn a high school diploma.
In June 2017, we created a Regents Research Work Group and tasked its members with overseeing our work to promote greater diversity within New York’s schools. In the coming months I will expand the mandate of the Work Group, co-chaired by Regents Johnson and Mead, and will ask them to begin looking at New York’s existing graduation requirements and how those requirements might be revised and improved.
To guide their work, the Work Group will be asked to focus on three areas: research, practice, and policy. They will need to examine current research and practice to determine what we want our children to know and to be able to do before they graduate; how we want them to demonstrate that knowledge and those skills; whether State exit exams improve student achievement, graduation rates, and college readiness; and whether different measures of achievement could serve as better indicators of high school completion. Might those other measures of achievement include things like capstone projects, alternative assessments, or engagement in civic and community activities?
There is a burgeoning body of research on this topic and there are concrete examples from other states to evaluate. The process of gathering public input, studying the research, and examining others’ practices will take time and resources. The Board of Regents will be able to consider possible policy alternatives only after all the groundwork has first been completed.
No one questions that this endeavor will be exceptionally challenging. There are strong feelings on all sides of this issue. Regents exams have been the gold standard for over a century – and with good reason. But our systems must be continually reviewed, renewed, and occasionally revised in order to best serve our students and the people of this great State. It is now time for us to begin the process of looking at our graduation requiremen