January/February 2020 Issue
- Graduation Requirements
January 06, 2020

NYSUT surveys members on state graduation requirements

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
graduation requirements
Caption: Mary Tomczak of Erie 1 Professional Education Association talks about how her BOCES has had great success with its “Twilight” program that offers early evening classes to students in danger of dropping out. Photo by Andrew Watson.

As state policymakers launch a two-year exploration into changing graduation requirements, NYSUT is polling members both formally and informally to see what they think about Regents exams and possible alternatives.

“Our focus has been and will always be to ensure your voice is heard,” NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango told members of the union’s Policy Council, subject area committees and BOCES Leadership Council during December meetings. “To help guide NYSUT’s advocacy, we want to have your feedback. You are our curriculum leaders — our eyes and ears in the field.”

DiBrango said NYSUT’s Polling Center surveyed more than 1,000 members by phone to see what they think about the state’s graduation requirements. The current requirements for a New York State diploma include, at a minimum, successful completion of 22 units of credit and passing four Regents exams (English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies) plus an approved graduation pathway assessment.

DiBrango gave committee members a quick overview of polling responses and then sought their feedback. The phone survey identified several key issues: The majority of members, or about 82 percent, believe there should be greater flexibility for students to meet graduation requirements.

More than two-thirds think all students should continue to be provided with the opportunity to take Regents exams, even if students are not required to pass Regents exams to graduate.

More than half said there should be a statewide test like a Regents exam to determine proficiency in a specific subject.

Respondents were split when asked if the current number of required Regents exams is on target. Forty-nine percent said it’s the right number; 38 percent said there are too many; and 8 percent weren’t sure.

In addition to the Regents exam option, 90 percent said they would support an alternative to the Regents exam for students to meet graduation requirements.

In answer to an open-ended question about what kind of alternatives they would like to see offered, respondents suggested: portfolios, capstone and project-based assessments; local assessments; vocational and technical exams; and alternative exams for students with disabilities. Some said passing courses and attaining the credits should be sufficient; others called for a single statewide proficiency test.

In discussion with NYSUT Policy Council and subject area committee members, several noted that the current battery of tests can be frustrating for English language learners and students with special needs, especially those at a reading level far below the test. Others said school counselors are carrying such heavy caseloads that it’s difficult for them to provide students the guidance and support they need to navigate the state’s complex system of graduation options and take advantage of the current flexibility.

DiBrango urged committee members to take part in upcoming Regents forums to be held January through March.

“It’s important for the Regents to hear about all the complexities you are talking about,” she said. “They need to understand there cannot be a one-size-fits-all system.