career day

State Regents sign off on new jobs-oriented diploma requirements

PHOTO: Geoff Decker

High school students will soon be able to opt out of a social studies Regents exam in favor of a test focused on job skills as a result of changes approved by the state’s Board of Regents on Monday morning.

The changes will offer new flexibility to the state’s rigid high-school testing regime, which previously required students to pass end-of-year exams in math, English, science and two social studies subjects. Students will now be able to have an exam in fields like culinary arts, accounting, or carpentry count as their fifth Regents exam if they have completed a related course of study.

The shift, which had been expected and is broadly supported by both union and business leaders, comes after years of debate about how to best prepare high school students for the world after graduation. New York state’s graduation rate is 75 percent, but even many graduates aren’t prepared for college-level coursework and must take remedial classes once they enroll in college. College readiness rates lag especially for black and Hispanic students.

In recent years, the state has focused on raising graduation standards—requiring students to pass the five Regents exams with a score of 65 and eliminating the “local diploma” option that had allowed many students to receive diplomas with lower scores. While that change didn’t affect statewide graduation rates, it did lead to fewer English language learners who graduated and advocates complained the tougher standards were unnecessarily restrictive because just a few missed points on a single Regents exam has stranded some students without diplomas.

The changes would allow for students to replace the fifth Regents exam with one of 13 career and technical education assessments. Students will also be able to replace the fifth exam with additional assessments for humanities and math and science, and, in the future, the arts.

Officials said that they had also established a “biliteracy pathway” that would include an assessment in a language other than English. State Education Commissioner John King said an Advanced Placement Spanish Literature exam could serve as one way for a student to receive graduation credits.

The new pathway for career and technical education programs like automotive repair and nursing is likely to have the biggest impact, since it may motivate students who have struggled to meet traditional graduation requirements and make it easier for them to earn a diploma. For years, the programs — now in 45 city high schools — had a reputation for housing low-performing students and providing substandard academic work, earning criticism from then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio in 2012. More recently, the city has created programs focused on high-earning fields with in-demand jobs.

Officials said they hoped the changes would encourage more career and technical education programs like the highly-touted Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Crown Heights, which partners with IBM and trains students in computer engineering at a local college.

“In the whole CTE discussion, clearly there were people who heard those words and heard ‘vocational ed’ and saw it as the lesser pathway,” said Regent James Tallon, who warned that the stigma could stick without successful implementation of the new graduation requirements.

King said that more money from the state legislature was needed to support local efforts to expand CTE programs. He declined to specify how much was needed, but said that the amount would be a priority in the Board of Regents’ annual budget request.

Last year, 2,800 city students graduated with a CTE distinction, and Board of Regents Chancellor Chancellor Merryl Tisch said Monday that the new graduation requirements could spur the city to create 1,000 more seats in underserved areas.

“I think that’s a benchmark that the city is prepared to think about and prepared to meet,” Tisch said. “We are calling on the city, for whom we are working to turn around schools, to include CTE as a major part of their turnaround structure.”

Chancellor Carmen Fariña declined through a spokesperson to comment on how the state’s changes would affect the city’s plans for struggling schools. But she said she welcomed the changes as a way to support her agenda to expand CTE programs citywide.

“We are broadening our efforts across the City to ensure we are preparing our students for college as well as the jobs of today and tomorrow, and these new graduation standards reflect that goal,” Fariña said.


call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”