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.

 

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.