Should a failed Regents exam mean a project-based second chance? Officials set to discuss

The Board of Regents will consider a series of measures on Monday that could shake up the way students across New York state earn a high school diploma.

State education officials are looking for the go-ahead to develop rules allowing students to substitute project-based assessments for failed Regents exams and to offer more leniency for those who barely fail a Regents test. Another proposal would allow a “career development” credential currently available only to students with disabilities to count in place of the fifth Regents exam required for graduation.

The discussion comes as earning a high school diploma in New York state has become more difficult. A 2012 decision required students to pass five Regents exams with a score of 65, instead of the previously required 55, to receive a traditional diploma. Though the graduation rate has continued to rise, Regents exams are scheduled to become more rigorous in the years ahead, raising concerns that more students will fall short.

“The Board of Regents has been committed to providing multiple pathways for all students to graduation with a regular high school diploma,” reads Regents material posted online.

State officials have already approved a “4 + 1” option that allows students to pass four Regents exams in core subjects and show proficiency in an alternative subject, like a technical field or art, in place of a fifth exam. The Regents have also approved “safety net” provisions for students with disabilities.

But the measures up for discussion on Monday could pave the way for some of the most comprehensive changes yet. They are also likely to raise questions about what skills students should need to graduate, and how to help more students earn a diploma while maintaining high standards. More than three-quarters of CUNY community college students who graduated from city high schools in 2014 took remedial classes, according to the New York Post.

One of the most wide-ranging items calls for the development of project-based assessments, which would assess students on a series of tasks or projects completed on a computer. Those assessments, which the proposal says would be of “the same rigor” as the corresponding Regents test but measure the standards differently, could be available to all students who fail a Regents exam.

The proposal is in line with the Regents’ recent moves to reconsider the role of traditional tests. At last month’s meeting, they supported recommendations from the governor’s Common Core task force, which suggested editing the learning standards and providing more flexibility around the grade 3-8 state tests.

Another proposal would allow the Career Development and Occupational Studies credential help students earn a traditional diploma. Currently, the CDOS credential is a skills-based certificate available to students with disabilities. Regents materials indicate that, if approved, the credential would be available to all students.

The state created the CDOS credential in 2013 as a way to signal students’ readiness for entry-level employment. But the credential is not accepted in place of a diploma, keeping students from attending college, entering the military or finding a job in most cases, advocates said.

“The CDOS commencement credential is in many ways a road to nowhere,” said Abja Midha, a project director at Advocates for Children who works to establish alternative pathways to graduation for students with disabilities. “Panera Bread asks if you have a high school diploma. What are the options for these kids?”

Allowing both project-based assessments and the CDOS credential could help more students with disabilities earn a diploma. In 2014, only 53 percent of students with disabilities graduated on time statewide.

Creating new ways for students with disabilities to graduate has been a goal of many Regents this year. Regent Roger Tilles from Long Island rallied on Sunday with Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky and other education officials to support alternative graduation pathways for students with disabilities.

The final measure up for discussion Monday would allow students who score between 60 and 64 on a Regents exam to appeal their score — a change officials noted could affect 4,000 students. Currently, students are eligible to appeal their score only if they miss the mark by three or fewer points.