another path

New York City students can now pass Spanish exam on path to graduation

A 2010 graduation ceremony of Denver's Bruce Randolph School (Hyoung Chang/ The Denver Post).

Starting this June, New York City students will be able to pass a Spanish exam as a requirement that counts toward graduation — a move that could help non-native English speakers earn a diploma.

High school students using this new option will still have to pass four of New York’s Regents exams. But now, they can substitute New York City’s Spanish Comprehensive Exam for their fifth required test and still earn a diploma, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia announced on Wednesday.

“These additional pathway assessments are an excellent way to promote the kinds of knowledge and skills that students need for success in the global economy,” Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said in a statement. “We hope and expect that this will encourage school districts to invest in high-quality world languages programs.”

The city created this Spanish test after after the state eliminated Foreign Language Regents exams in 2011. New York City students can already take the test  which includes a speaking, listening, reading and writing component  on their way to earning a more advanced diploma, but this is the first time the test may be used for a more standard Regents diploma.

Approximately 300 New York City schools offered the exam during the 2017 school year, according to city education department officials. Students must complete three years of Spanish coursework or equivalent coursework from a Spanish-speaking country and pass the exam in order to take advantage of this new graduation option, city officials said.

State officials also announced on Wednesday they have approved graduation exams in Chinese, French and Italian, at the request of an entity that provides services to a group of school districts upstate. Those options will not be available for New York City students in 2018, according to city officials. (New York City can choose to offer these tests in the future, according to the state.)

So far, the city has only submitted the Spanish exam for state approval. However, city officials said they will consider asking to add more foreign language tests to the mix in subsequent years.

Some advocates are cautiously optimistic that this could help some students learning English earn diplomas, though they say it is too early to tell exactly how schools will capitalize on the new option. English learners graduate at rates far lower than their peers. Less than 33 percent of New York City’s English language learners graduated last year, compared to the citywide graduation rate of 74 percent.

“Having a foreign language +1 pathway will support English language learners who struggle with graduation requirements,” said Abja Midha, deputy director of Education Trust-NY. “It is also important that schools provide English language learners with the English and math instruction they need to be ready for postsecondary success.”

Still, those learning English will be required to pass another four exams, including an English Regents exam, which could limit their ability to use the new option, said Ashley Grant, a supervising staff attorney at Advocates for Children.

“We’d still like to see more pathways that don’t rely on high-stakes assessments,” Grant said.  

The foreign language option is part of a growing of set alternative graduation paths in New York. Instead of taking a fifth Regents exam, students can already take assessments in areas like career and technical education, the arts, or by earning a skills certificate. Additionally, students with disabilities can now graduate without passing any Regents exams.  

State officials say they are creating these options because there are numerous “comparably rigorous” ways students can demonstrate what they know outside of the state’s traditional Regents exams. However, a recent Education Trust -NY report questions whether some these alternatives are tracking students into coursework that is not geared towards college.

future of work

Tennessee approves its first-ever computer science standards for K-8 schools

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post

With regional jobs related to computer science going unfilled, Tennessee soon will introduce academic standards designed specifically to strengthen those skills beginning in elementary school.

The state Board of Education gave final approval Friday to Tennessee’s first-ever computer science standards for elementary and middle schools. The benchmarks will reach classrooms in the fall of 2019.

In the works for a year, they’ll replace computer technology standards that were last revised in 2011.

State officials say the current standards don’t capture the critical components of computer science, a growing field with jobs especially in healthcare, transportation, and banking. In 2015 across Tennessee, for instance, only a third of the 90,000 jobs posted for workers in IT, or information technology, were filled.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said the employment gap represents a huge opportunity for students as the state also emphasizes instruction in science, technology, engineering, and math, also known as STEM.

“We don’t have enough students actually interested in computer science because they don’t know what it is,” she told members of the board earlier this year. McQueen cited research showing that 50 percent of people who pursue STEM careers trace their interest to exposure in first or second grade.

“Getting kids interested really does matter at those very, very early ages,” she said.

For elementary schools, the new standards will focus on introducing students to the basics of computer systems and programs — and helping them learn about safe and responsible device practices, such as protecting private information and using passwords securely.

For middle schools, students will study computer-related calculations and information-processing skills used to create computer programs. They’ll also discuss “digital citizenship,” which covers how to interact safely with people and content online. And they’ll explore career opportunities related to computer science.

Except for instruction in coding and computer programming — which will be taught as a stand-alone class — the skills are to be integrated into existing core classes in English, math, science and social studies. They’re “things our teachers are already doing,” said Melissa Haun, math coordinator for the Tennessee Department of Education, of most of the new computer science standards.

“We’re not asking teachers to do more things or give them a heavier workload. We’re asking them to be aware of the standards and be deliberate in how they can enhance their instruction with technology because we are in a very very digital world that moves very fast,” Haun told the state board in April.

"We don’t have enough students actually interested in computer science because they don’t know what it is."Candice McQueen, commissioner of education

School districts will have discretion on how to add coding and computer programming instruction to the mix. Many school systems already are piloting such curriculums after investing in digital devices in the ongoing transition to computerized state testing.

McQueen said coding represents “one of the most underutilized opportunities that we have.”

“If you can get kids to think like a coder and the problem-solving that occurs with that, … you can start to inspire them around opportunities,” she said. “That coding skill set, and the language of coding, opens up about 75 percent of jobs that they may have never thought about before.”

Computer science marks the latest new standards for Tennessee, which has or is in the process of revamping benchmarks in all four core areas of instruction.

New English and math standards start their second year this fall, new science standards are about to begin, and new ones for social studies reach classrooms in the fall of 2019, the same year of the first-ever standards for computer science.

Pathways

Tennessee’s career readiness program expands beyond high school

PHOTO: TN.gov
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen speaks in Nashville in 2015 at a Drive to 55 summit. Launched Thursday, Tennessee Pathways, part of the Drive to 55 initiative, was spearheaded by McQueen and Governor Bill Haslam.

Six years after the state launched Pathways Tennessee, a career readiness effort for high school students, the program is growing and rebranding as Tennessee Pathways.

The program will now serve K–12 students, not just high schoolers, with the goal of encouraging them to pursue post-secondary education — be it a college degree or a trade-school certificate. Tennessee Pathways is part of Drive to 55, Governor Bill Haslam’s initiative to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with postsecondary degrees to 55 percent by 2025.

On Thursday, Haslam issued a press release touting the expansion, into new districts and into grades beyond high school.

“[A]ll Tennesseans deserve the opportunity to pursue a rewarding career, and that includes the education and training to get there,” Haslam said. “Tennessee Pathways provides a key foundation to help us reach this goal.”

Participating schools must provide career advising and opportunities for students to gain work experience or earn college credit. They are also expected to build relationships with community groups and businesses.

Last year, the state Department of Education released reports that tracked Tennessee students after they graduated high school. The first-of-their-kind reports found that 63 percent of graduating seniors across the state were enrolled in post-secondary programs in 2016. In Shelby County Schools, Memphis’ main district, about half of students in the district continue their educations beyond high school.

The expansion of Tennessee Pathways, which is currently in 33 counties, isn’t directly tied to that data, the state department of education spokeswoman Chandler Hopper, said. Rather, it reflects the department’s desire to “ensure the state is on track” to have the majority of its students earn some type of postsecondary education after high school.

“We know that students and families want more options and opportunities after high school, and we want to scale up and align those pathways with regional needs,” she said. “This is happening in pockets now, but we want to make sure it’s happening statewide.”

The state intends to fund this expansion in two ways. First, they’ll invest about $2 million in hiring new regional coordinators to help school systems identify opportunities that align with their needs and resources. Second, they’ll offer grants to participating districts; those grants will be funded by J.P. Morgan’s New Skills for Youth initiative, aimed at strengthening career training.

Samantha Gutter, a workforce readiness director for SCORE, a state education reform group, welcomed the news of Tennessee Pathways’ expansion.

“Parents and employers tell SCORE they are concerned that too many students graduate from high school underprepared for the demands of higher education and the workforce,” Gutter said.

New Tennessee Pathways designations will be awarded to districts beginning in fall 2019. This year, regional coordinators will work with districts to help them adhere to Pathways expectations.