Students will now be able to substitute a skills certificate for a fifth Regents exam in the latest shift meant to ease the path to high school graduation in New York.
State policymakers approved the new way for students to earn a high school degree on Monday. Starting this year, all students will be able to earn a Career Development and Occupational Studies credential, an alternative certificate created in 2013 for students with disabilities to demonstrate that they were ready for employment.
Now, any student will be able to combine that credential with four other Regents exams to earn a high school diploma.
The measure is part of the board’s broader effort to find more ways to allow students to earn a high school diploma. In 2012, the board began increasing the score needed to pass Regents exams as part of its effort to raise standards. But officials have also raised concerns about students being denied a diploma because of their inability to pass a fifth Regents exam, often global history.
Since then, the board has been searching for ways to help more students graduate, particularly English language learners and students with disabilities. The Regents have already approved a “4+1” option, which allows students to take four required Regents exams and show proficiency in a fifth subject, like art.
The CDOS credential — which requires students to build a career plan and study career and technical education, or have job experience such as shadowing a professional or working at an internship — will now be an additional option for students.
But CDOS measure did not pass without controversy. Only just over half the board members voted in favor of the change.
“I’m just concerned about the rigor that is here,” said Regent James Tallon. “We’re just at the beginning of alternate pathways discussions.”
Expanding graduation options poses tricky problems for policymakers, who want to see more students have access to college and employment while keeping standards high enough for diplomas to retain their significance. State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia suggested that substituting the CDOS credential for a final Regents exam is intended to toe that line.
But some Regents raised concerns about the value of the CDOS credential, and pointed out that this solution still leaves few options for students who cannot pass four Regents exams. Though it was created to provide a meaningful certification for students with disabilities who could not earn a traditional diploma, the CDOS credential has not been respected by employers, said Regent Roger Tilles.
“The problem is that nobody accepts them,” Tilles said. “The Army doesn’t, colleges don’t, and employers don’t. We need to make a concerted effort to say, hey, the CDOS is worth something.”
Abja Midha, a project director at Advocates for Children who works to establish alternative pathways to graduation for students, said the measures are a step in the right direction. She also agrees it leaves questions for students who struggle to pass Regents exams.
“We do think that it’s a good step forward,” Midha said. But she also asked, “What do we do about those student who are in the meantime are struggling with exams but have mastered standards?”
The measure could impact thousands of students across the state, state education officials said. In the 2014-15 school year, 1,820 students earned a CDOS credential, according to the state, but that number is likely to rise if all students can qualify for it.
The Regents also expanded the appeals process for students who just barely failed a Regents exam by two points. Before, students could appeal a score of 62 to 64. Now, they will be able to appeal scores as low as 60.
The Regents also eliminated an attendance requirement connected to the appeals process.