January 26, 2011

Graduation requirements: Should they be changed?

Source: NYSUT Communications
Caption: Kevin Ruane and Tom Kachadurian of the South Colonie Teachers Association at a Regents forum on graduation requirements that took place in their home district in January. Photo by Andrew Watson. MORE PHOTOS.

Teachers need to be seen and heard at a series of regional meetings on whether the Board of Regents should increase New York's graduation requirements.

You may also participate in an on-line survey through midnight, February 18. Click here for a link to the survey.

The Regents' regional meetings will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m., at a time most educators are able to attend. See the sidebar for the complete schedule.

The Regents are looking at increasing state graduation requirements, as well as extending the school day and school year. Some of the discussions have focused on major changes, including :

  • adding an additional year of math and science required to earn a Regents Diploma;
  • requiring a new "college/career readiness" credit, such as a Career and Technical Education course, a college course or an advanced course;
  • creating a new credential, the College/Career Ready diploma to recognize high achievement on Regents exams;
  • more flexibility in meeting graduation requirements and providing students a choice in one or more of the five required Regents exams; and
  • increasing the required passing score on Regents English and math exams.

More information about the Regents proposal is on the State Aid website.

NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira is encouraging union members to take the on-line survey and attend the meetings to make sure teachers are involved.

"The over-arching concern in all of the proposed changes to state graduation requirements is the fiscal impact and costs of the initiatives during a time of fiscal crisis and the very real possibility of a tax cap," Neira said. "Many of the proposed changes to graduation requirements will have additional costs associated with them."

Neira is urging the board to thoroughly study and debate the changes before any decisions are made, especially given the recent adoption of the Common Core State standards in English language arts and math, the upcoming new generation of state assessments and development of curriculum models.

At a forum Jan. 25 at Colonie High School, about 175 capital region educators participated in roundtable discussions and heard from SED Commissioner David Steiner, Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and SED Senior Deputy John King.

Several participants called for more flexibility in middle school scheduling; flexibility in seat time; and more opportunities for service learning and internships. After Steiner's presentation showed that less than one-quarter of community college students earn associate's degrees in three years, participants suggested more remediation in high school to prepare students for higher education.

Steiner said SED has a deep interest in on-line learning, but is seeking advice from the field on how to manage and design such a system.

Bethlehem teacher Michael Mitchell of the NYS Association of Foreign Language Teachers urged policymakers to consider offering foreign language study in earlier grades to give students early exposure and more options later. Steiner said foreign language is one of several subjects that have been pushed aside by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. "We need more equality for subjects... to allow students to show us excellence in areas of passion," Steiner said.

Kathleen McGowan, an art teacher in South Glens Falls, voiced concern that removing requirements or allowing "flexibility" could compromise subjects like the arts, home and career skills and technology. "In these economic times, I fear that districts will use flexibilty as a loophole to eliminate these important subjects," she said.