alternative pathways

Regents approve new path to graduation using a skills certificate

PHOTO: Cassandra Giraldo

Students will now be able to substitute a skills certificate for a fifth Regents exam in the latest shift meant to ease the path to high school graduation in New York.

State policymakers approved the new way for students to earn a high school degree on Monday. Starting this year, all students will be able to earn a Career Development and Occupational Studies credential, an alternative certificate created in 2013 for students with disabilities to demonstrate that they were ready for employment.

Now, any student will be able to combine that credential with four other Regents exams to earn a high school diploma.

The measure is part of the board’s broader effort to find more ways to allow students to earn a high school diploma. In 2012, the board began increasing the score needed to pass Regents exams as part of its effort to raise standards. But officials have also raised concerns about students being denied a diploma because of their inability to pass a fifth Regents exam, often global history.

Since then, the board has been searching for ways to help more students graduate, particularly English language learners and students with disabilities. The Regents have already approved a “4+1” option, which allows students to take four required Regents exams and show proficiency in a fifth subject, like art.

The CDOS credential — which requires students to build a career plan and study career and technical education, or have job experience such as shadowing a professional or working at an internship — will now be an additional option for students.

But CDOS measure did not pass without controversy. Only just over half the board members voted in favor of the change.

“I’m just concerned about the rigor that is here,” said Regent James Tallon. “We’re just at the beginning of alternate pathways discussions.”

Expanding graduation options poses tricky problems for policymakers, who want to see more students have access to college and employment while keeping standards high enough for diplomas to retain their significance. State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia suggested that substituting the CDOS credential for a final Regents exam is intended to toe that line.

But some Regents raised concerns about the value of the CDOS credential, and pointed out that this solution still leaves few options for students who cannot pass four Regents exams. Though it was created to provide a meaningful certification for students with disabilities who could not earn a traditional diploma, the CDOS credential has not been respected by employers, said Regent Roger Tilles.

“The problem is that nobody accepts them,” Tilles said. “The Army doesn’t, colleges don’t, and employers don’t. We need to make a concerted effort to say, hey, the CDOS is worth something.”

Abja Midha, a project director at Advocates for Children who works to establish alternative pathways to graduation for students, said the measures are a step in the right direction. She also agrees it leaves questions for students who struggle to pass Regents exams.

“We do think that it’s a good step forward,” Midha said. But she also asked, “What do we do about those student who are in the meantime are struggling with exams but have mastered standards?”

The measure could impact thousands of students across the state, state education officials said. In the 2014-15 school year, 1,820 students earned a CDOS credential, according to the state, but that number is likely to rise if all students can qualify for it.

The Regents also expanded the appeals process for students who just barely failed a Regents exam by two points. Before, students could appeal a score of 62 to 64. Now, they will be able to appeal scores as low as 60.

The Regents also eliminated an attendance requirement connected to the appeals process.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.