Testimony to NYS Assembly Minority Forum on High School Diploma Options

 

  1. What are the consequences of the New York State Board of Regents decision to eliminate the Local High School Diploma option and limit all New York High School graduates to a Regents Diploma?

There is a local diploma.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  At the Board of Regents meeting in January, the Regents raised the issue of parents demanding that a local diploma be reinstated and Commissioner Elia said there is a local diploma and framed it as a communication issue and blamed guidance counselors.

There is a local diploma option and it is available to General Education, English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities.  The issue is that the local diploma is tied to five Regents Exams.  The local diploma is available to students who ‘fail’ the Regents exams in the right way.

I asked one of the teachers in my school district, Brewster in Putnam County, for a status of the students in my district.  We have an excellent reputation for our special education department.  One example:  USH failed 7 times, Living Environment, passed on the 5th try, Integrated Algebra failed 3 times, ELA failed 7 times, never attempted global history. 5 exams, 22 attempts to get through them before dropping out of school.  This story is repeated over and over across the state.  I would like to know why tenacity is not considered an important component of being ready to take on a full time job.

  1. Do you think the use of portfolio based assessments and/or the addition of multiple pathways to graduation would be helpful to both special education and general education students?

Commissioner Elia explained her solution of Project-Based Assessments as computer based testing and competency based education with “scoring by trained evaluators based on a scoring rubric established by the State”.

Are we going to continue to turn our childrens’ entire future over to $12 an hour test scorers recruited on Craigslist?

Will our students have their educational experience reduced to the equivalent of leveling up in Super Mario Brothers or Call of Duty video game?

Further, the Regents exams can only capture about 15% of the total standards in any one exam.  Project based assessment could potentially mean testing on every single standard.   Think about that.  A student with a learning disability potentially having their every ability data-mined.  That is a dystopian future for our children.   1984, Brave New World, every education based key stroke tracked.

Today, for the Board of Regents and NYSED, Multiple Pathways means more testing.  It should not be another written exam.  Students at Automotive High School should be assessed on their ability to repair cars, use business software and understand how to run a business.  Of course they should be exposed to history, art, civics, science, literature and math.  But the standard for a student should be mechanical ability, not five Regents exams, or a written exam in some other area.

The Board of Regents established a Blue Ribbon Panel to determine appropriate exit exams for Art.  After a year, they came up with AP Art.  AP Art?    How is a written exam in Art a pathway to a career in Art?

Multiple pathways should not be written exams.  Further, multiple pathways to a diploma had existed for decades in NYS and earning a diploma has never been ‘too’ easy. All of this started because of the myth that schools are just handing out diplomas.  If public schools were just handing out diplomas, why was the graduation rate always been around 70%?

  1. How has the ability for students to participate in BOCES, career, and technical education programs been impacted by the requirement that every student obtain a Regents Diploma?

I know students who have been placed in Algebra 1 for three periods a day for two years to prepare them for the Algebra 1 Regents.   The narrative is that we want to avoid tracking, but that certainly sounds like tracking to me.  For these students, they lose time working on the required credits in other areas, which impacts their access to BOCES.

Students who fail a Regents in one subject are mandated into AIS or Academic Intervention Services.

A student in 9th grade who fails the Algebra 1 and Science Regents are now mandated into AIS for these two classes in 10th grade.  10th grade is now 2 math classes, 2 science classes, 1 global history, 1 ELA, 1 LOTE/Art credit and .5 PE .5 Health for 8 class periods.

If the student fails these Regents again, in August, January and June and fails the Global History Regents then 11th grade is 2 Math (1 AIS), 1 Science AIS, 1 Global History AIS, 1 ELA, 1 US History and .5 PE.  7.5 classes does not allow time for BOCES.

I would also like to point out that these students very often end up with back to back exams on the same day, up to 12 hours of testing with extending time.   There has been a bill sitting in the Education committee for 10 years to prevent students with extended time from having to take two Regents exams on the same day.  It is A5270. Let me repeat that, it is A5270  The Senate version is S1501, S1501.  I have emailed all of you about this at some point

4a. What is the best way for providing special education students with a high schooldiploma? Should the Regents Competency Tests (RCTs) be reinstated?

There is no one best way which is why the local diploma option should not be tied to testing and should be restored to some level of local control.  Yes, there should be 22 credits and there should be high expectations, students should not just be passed along.  But having an entire school district invested in students passing an exam does not prepare the student for what is next in life.

30+ years ago, when I took the Regents exams, it was the student’s problem to pass, not the school’s or the teacher’s.   Students had to learn how to study, organize notes and work on material for a year to pass a Regents exam or final exam.  There was no review or practice.  That is how students became college and career ready, by taking ownership of their education and of their futures.

Students should work on projects, have access to business math, write research papers or do research projects in another medium.  Students should have a varied and rich educational experience.  That is what will prepare them for the next steps in life.

4b. Should the Regents Competency Tests be reinstated?

RCTs are still available until 2017 for the 2010 cohort and it would be great if that could be extended to the students who are currently in the test and punish cycle as an immediate solution.  But the RCT model forced double testing on students with disabilities, and it is time we end the test and punish cycle.

My recommendation would be to reduce the number of Regents exams for students on a local diploma pathway to the three subject areas mandated by the federal government and ESSA.  ELA, Math and Science.  And decouple the final grade results from the graduation requirements.   A real portfolio based assessment would be acceptable, but computer based / competency based testing is not.  The truth is, you cannot use bureaucracy to make the best decisions for a student.  You cannot educate a student from 100 miles away.   We need to restore local control and trust our parents, our teachers and our principals to make proper assessments for the students that are in front of them.

 

The Regents exams have lost all meaning despite NYSED congratulating themselves on raising standards.  The Regents used to be, way back in my day, based on 100 points with 65 as passing.   Today, the cut scores are manipulated to keep the passing rate flat, or slightly higher so that NYSED can use their manipulated statistics to support their narrative.   Today, 30 or 35% of 85 is the new 65 or passing.   How exactly is 30 to 35 as passing a high standard?

In fact, NYSED could do us all a favor and move the cut score to 10 as the new 65 and we can all go home.

 

 

 

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