Regents consider preserving the less-rigorous "local" diploma

The state’s top education policymakers are considering scrapping a plan to raise high school graduation standards, a Board of Regents member told me today. The rethinking comes in response to data showing that one-third of black and Hispanic students who graduate from high school today would not graduate if the state raised its standards.

It also comes as the new Regents chancellor, Merryl Tisch, has been vowing to raise standards. Tisch recently traveled to a Chicago conference where 46 states vowed their support for common standards across the country. She did not return a request for comment this afternoon.

State school officials had said they would get rid of what are known as “local” diplomas, less rigorous versions of the more prestigious Regents diplomas, beginning with students who entered ninth-grade this year. While students must score 65 out of 100 on state subject exams to earn a Regents diploma, they can now score 55 and graduate with a local diploma.

But Regent Betty Rosa, of the Bronx, told me that the board is considering scrapping that plan, which she said was never a foregone conclusion. “I think some people thought it was, but there’s been some concern on both sides of the equations,” Rosa said.

Mayor Bloomberg said he favors getting rid of the local diploma at a press conference today where he announced the latest graduation rate:

“Yes, it’s going to be a shock. And if we don’t do it, the marketplace is going to shock kids an awful lot worse, and permanently,” he said. “We have to raise the standards because the requirements in the world keep going up. You can’t work in the sanitation department today with the GED or a high school diploma.”

Rosa said Regents members want to keep the state’s graduation standards rigorous. “The question becomes, is getting rid of the local diploma, is that the solution?” she said.

Regents members outlined their concerns in meeting minutes released to reporters today about the new graduation rate numbers, which are for the Class of 2008. One section of the notes projects the impact of a no-local-diploma policy on certain sets of students. Of the black students who graduated high school last year, 33% had local diplomas. Another 31% of Hispanic graduates had local diplomas, as did 50% of students with disabilities and 48% of English Language Learners, the minutes report.

The notes conclude, “The Regents will analyze these decisions as they consider whether to continue implementing the phase-out of the local diploma.”

City advocates have been warning for months that the change would cause graduation rates to plummet, particularly for poor and minority students. But even these advocates have not asked for the standards to stay as they are; instead, they have used the coming challenge as a rallying cry to improve high schools.

Chancellor Joel Klein recently said the new regulations would promote a “rising tide” that would help all schools improve.