New York officials discussing plan to ease path to graduation for students with disabilities

New York education officials are discussing a plan to allow high school students with disabilities to earn a diploma without passing most or all Regents exams, sources said Friday.

Details of the plan, which would end current requirements for students with disabilities to pass at least four Regents exams to graduate, haven’t yet been finalized by the state education department. But any such changes — if approved by the state’s Board of Regents next week, when the plan is likely to be discussed — could be the Regents’ boldest move yet as they continue trying to make it easier for more students earn a diploma.

The proposal was noted on the New York State School Boards Association’s website on Friday. Regent Roger Tilles confirmed that officials were working on such a plan, which he called “a very delicate balance.”

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we will have something” at the next Regents meeting, he said.

Students in New York have long been required to pass exams in five core academic subjects to earn a high school diploma. Students with disabilities can earn a less-rigorous “local” diploma by scoring a 55, rather than a 65, on each exam.

It’s not clear whether the new proposal would allow students to earn a local diploma, a Regents diploma, or something else. But Regents have been focused recently on providing new pathways to a Regents diploma. Since last year, all students have been able to substitute a test in art or some other subjects for a fifth Regents test.

Still, crafting alternative requirements for students with disabilities — who make up more than 18 percent of New York City’s public-school students — touches on a divisive debate.

Several years ago, the state eliminated the “IEP diploma” for students with disabilities, which didn’t qualify a student for college or the military. Officials worried that its availability meant that too many students were ending up with a meaningless credential.

The newest plan, according to Tilles and others, would likely still require students to pass the English Regents exam. It’s not clear if any other Regents exams would be required, but students will be required to show “mastery” in key courses, which could be judged by performance-based assessments, other kinds of tests, or students’ grades.

Officials said a more expansive change that would allow students who do not have disabilities to take advantage of the new requirements has not been ruled out.

The State Education Department declined to comment on the specific proposal, but said the state is working to create more ways for students to reach graduation.

“We continue to explore ways to expand academic pathways to graduation to better serve students of New York,” spokesman Jonathan Burman said. “Any proposal will ensure student standards are maintained while recognizing that students excel in a variety of areas.”

The proposal will likely be presented to the board as an emergency regulation, which means it could affect students graduating this year. The next Regents meeting is June 13.