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May 4, 2018
How have New York’s graduation requirements changed over the years? Check out this timeline.
A Chalkbeat timeline from the 1800s to today spells out how New York's graduation requirements have evolved.
choosing your grad-venture
May 3, 2018
What should it take to graduate? Inside the growing divide over whether to require New York’s vaunted Regents exams
As the state reimagines graduation requirements, Chalkbeat examines their history, what they're like now, and how earning a diploma could change in the future.
life on track
March 14, 2018
New analysis suggests early signs of tracking in New York’s expanded graduation options
A new analysis shows black students are now disproportionately more likely to use an evaluation meant to test entry-level work skills on their way to graduation.
getting to graduation
October 18, 2017
A capstone project before graduation? New York debates new ways to earn a diploma
As New York continues to rethink what students must do to graduate high school, state policymakers floated their latest idea Monday.
October 4, 2017
New York’s graduation rate could drop under new federal education law
It’s possible the federal graduation rate will exclude New York’s “local” diploma, a less rigorous diploma earned by only about 4 percent of graduating students.
diplomas for all
July 18, 2017
Education commissioner floats idea of allowing a work readiness credential to confer benefits of a diploma
New York state’s education commissioner floated a radical new graduation option: allowing students to use a work-readiness credential to obtain a “local diploma."
rules and regs
June 22, 2017
New York shortens length of ‘gag order’ on teachers discussing Regents questions online
After pushback from teachers, the New York State Education Department has changed a new provision that temporarily prohibits teachers from discussing Regents exam questions online.
a new path
February 15, 2017
Legislators join chorus of calls for new graduation options in New York state
Several legislators who latched onto an issue the State Education Department is currently tackling: How to find new, legitimate ways for students to graduate.
November 15, 2016
More students passing New York state algebra exam, after outcry sparked by previous year’s test results
Seventy-two percent of students passed Algebra I in 2015-16, according to data released by the State Education Department on Monday.
getting to graduation
June 13, 2016
It’s official: New York is making it easier for students with disabilities to graduate this year
The dramatic move could increase demand for the state’s less-rigorous “local” diploma and reignite a debate about academic requirements for those students.
April 12, 2016
Regents grade ‘scrubbing’ helped push students to graduation, study finds
A study found no evidence that teachers who manipulated scores to increase their own pay, or even to help their schools avoid closure.
January 26, 2015
Blizzard means high schools will grade some of their own students’ exams
Schools will grade their students' global and U.S. history exams, partially suspending a policy put in place to curb score inflation.
January 26, 2015
Schools will be closed Tuesday, and Regents exams moved to later this week
Citing the “historic” snow storm bearing down on New York, state education officials said districts forced to cancel school can reschedule Regents exams — as long as they still administer all the tests by Friday.
January 13, 2015
State eases graduation requirements for new immigrants
Students who arrive in the U.S. during high school and are still learning English could now find it slightly easier to earn a diploma, thanks to a new change to state graduation requirements.
July 11, 2014
No vote on Regents waivers yet
The official decision regarding Regents waivers for a group of New York City high schools has yet to be made, despite a Board of Regents…
January 29, 2014
As crises ebb, educators adjust to new Common Core curriculums
Midway through the first year with new Common Core-aligned teaching materials, some educators say they are fundamentally flawed. Even teachers who praise the materials say they require serious adjustments and threaten to leave many students behind.
December 10, 2013
As testing anxiety peaks, student media campaign urges calm
From left: Columbia University volunteer Andrew Zola; Nichole Urena; Hudson High government teacher Elizabeth Schurman; principal Nancy Amling; Christina Auricchio; Bruce Dixey. Like students across the city, those at the Hudson High School of Learning Technologies can rattle off many reasons to loathe the state Regents exams. Teens at the Chelsea school have had to slog through Saturday test-prep classes, retake tough tests several times, appeal low scores and — in at least one student’s case — retake two of the all-important exit exams this summer on his 17th birthday. But unlike most students, those in Hudson’s 12th-grade government class decided to turn their Regents animus into action by launching an outreach campaign aimed at lowering the temperature around testing.
November 22, 2013
Tisch: Student's test woes show need for more diploma paths
Philip Yeung with his daughter, Tiffany, whose struggle to pass one Regents exam has kept her from earning a diploma. A student stuck without a diploma after 11 unsuccessful attempts to pass a test is the “poster child” for a need to create new ways to graduate, a top state education official said this week. Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch was asked Monday about a recent GothamSchools story on students who have failed to meet the state’s new higher graduation standards, which went into effect last year. She said such students prove the need for diploma options that allow students to substitute an alternative assessment for one of the five required Regents tests. “Should that student be denied a high-school diploma? I don’t think so,” Tisch said about Tiffany, a would-be nurse who has yet to pass her global history and geography Regents exam more than a year after she had hoped to graduate. Tiffany, who still takes Regents-prep classes at Francis Lewis High School in Queens nearly 18 months after her senior year there, asked that her last name be withheld so that potential employers and others would not learn of her graduation struggles. “She’s my poster child for why we need multiple pathways [to graduation],” said Tisch, adding that she would like Tiffany to attend a Regents meeting next month where the board will consider proposals for more routes to a diploma.
November 14, 2013
Tougher diploma rules leave some students in graduation limbo
Philip Yeung with his daughter, Tiffany, who has tried to pass a single Regents exam 10 times since the state raised the minimum pass score. If Jessica Fuentes had better luck with timing, she might be in college now. But because she was a high school senior in 2012, the year the state raised the minimum exam scores required to graduate, she missed the new cutoff score on a few tests, failed to receive a diploma, and withdrew from the college she had planned to attend. Today, after many unsuccessful attempts to pass the tests, she is juggling three jobs while studying for a high school equivalency certificate. “I did four years of high school,” said Fuentes, 20. “What a waste of my time.” Fuentes is one of an untold number of city students ensnared by the state's efforts to raise graduation standards. Those efforts, meant to ensure that high school graduates are prepared for college, have in some cases stranded students in graduation limbo, where because a single test score is a few points too low, they must set aside plans for work and college to take taxpayer-funded test-prep classes.
November 11, 2013
Coalition wants the state to let more schools skip the Regents
A sign inside Urban Academy, a New York Performance Standards Consortium school, details the coalition's past struggles to maintain its Regents-exam waivers. A coalition of small high schools where students complete graduation projects rather than take most Regents exams could soon add several more schools to its ranks – if the state lets those schools skip the tests. The New York Performance Standards Consortium is in talks with the state to get Regents-exam waivers for as many as 22 schools that follow the group’s instructional model and use alternative assessments, but currently must also administer the Regents tests. The schools, which have been part of a multi-year pilot, include several high schools in the Internationals and Expeditionary Learning networks. Many of them have staff members who worked at consortium schools in the past. The consortium currently includes 28 public schools — 26 in New York City and one each in Rochester and Ithaca — where students are exempt from taking all Regents exams except for English. Instead, they must earn class credits and complete intensive projects to graduate. The group and its supporters – which include the city teachers union and more recently the city Department of Education – have lobbied the state to let more schools trade the Regents tests for the long-term projects, citing data showing higher-than-average graduation and college-enrollment rates among consortium schools. “I think it’s a disgrace that these schools have to apply for a waiver to do more work and prepare children better,” said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, adding that obtaining the state waivers is rarely easy. “We know every time we do it it’s a political battle.”
September 13, 2013
After two companies botch test scoring, city to recoup money
The city canceled a contract with one testing vendor and won't get charged by another after the companies bungled exam scoring in separate incidents earlier this year, the education department announced today. Officials announced this afternoon that they are canceling a $9.7 million contract after the vendor, CTB/McGraw-Hill, botched a new electronic grading process for the city's Regents exams, causing confusion for tens of thousands of students who needed scores to graduate or move onto the next grade. The city will also recoup $2.1 million from Pearson for major errors during its administration of a gifted exam. The news comes less than three months after officials sought to downplay the issues, which included a series of technical glitches that resulted from logistical problems, faulty software and low school bandwidth. Spokeswoman Erin Hughes said the department was still negotiating how much money it would recoup from the contract, which was in its second year of a three-year deal. As a result of the cancellation, she said, the city planned to move back to paper-and-pencil scoring in 2014.
August 12, 2013
Chelsea students to retake lost Regents exams
Among the city students to take the state’s English Regents exams on Tuesday are 75 students at Chelsea Career and Technical High School whose original…
August 8, 2013
New State Math Exam Harder, But Not Due To Rigor
As a high school teacher, I am not well versed in elementary school tests, but I have spent a substantial amount of time scrutinizing New York state math Regents exams, so I thought I’d look at the eighth-grade math questions that were released to the public. I was quite surprised by what I saw.
June 26, 2013
With Regents exam scores coming in, attention turns to appeals
With a 92 average in her classes and two passing scores on Regents exams last year, Jacalyn Swintelsky had reason to be optimistic on her way to pick up her report card at Midwood High School this morning. But when she got there, Swintelsky was stunned to see that she had failed the Global Studies Regents exam. Her score was two points shy of the 65 required for graduation and well below her marks on the three other Regents exams she took this year. "I was really shocked," said Swintelsky. "I expected to pass, that's for sure." The outlier on Swintelsky's report card stood out for another reason: It was the only test she took that was graded using the city's new online scoring system that CTB/McGraw-Hill developed for four frequently taken Regents exams. Serious glitches in the scoring system caused delays in getting grades and introduced concerns that scores might be artificially diminished. Now, students such as Swintelsky and their teachers are crafting plans to appeal lower-than-expected scores.
June 24, 2013
Regents test scoring to conclude on Tuesday, finally, city says
A picture that a teacher took of the electronic grading system this afternoon showed that scoring was nearing completion but that thousands of test items still remained to be graded. The drawn-out scoring process for four Regents exams administered earlier this month will come to an end on Tuesday, nearly a week after the first of the exams were supposed to be graded, according to Department of Education officials. The department informed principals this afternoon that some teachers might have to report for scoring on Tuesday, the penultimate day of the school year. "Thank you for your continued support as we approach the completion of Regents exam scoring," wrote Niket Mull, the head of the department's Office of Assessment. Originally, the department had intended for the four exams that are being scored electronically this year — English, global studies, U.S. history, and Living Environment — to be graded by Thursday and entered into the city's data system by today. But a series of glitches in the process engineered by CTB/McGraw-Hill, the testing company, has repeatedly delayed scoring. Those glitches continued over the weekend, when the city had recruited teachers to score exams. A department spokeswoman, Erin Hughes, said McGraw-Hill's scanning of exams over the weekend exceeded the capacity of the company's server, making weekend scoring less efficient than expected.
June 21, 2013
Broad concerns about "harsh" ELA Regents conversion charts
The grading of high school Regents exams isn't even over, but some city educators are already registering concern about the new state conversion charts for English tests. Bronx Center for Science and Math Assistant Principal Stephen Seltzer sent a letter to State Education Commissioner John King expressing frustration about the new conversion chart that has made it more difficult for students to pass the English Regents exam. Seltzer writes that "the rubrics and conversion charts must be aligned and consistent, and both should be made available when teachers are preparing students, not at the time of the exam."
June 21, 2013
UFT protests Regents grading issues; UFT downplays concerns
UFT President Mulgrew and Council of Supervisors and Administrators, a principals union, outside Stuyvesant High School this morning. A top Department of Education official said Friday that effects from delays caused by city's new electronic grading system were "overblown" and estimated that only a small percentage of students would participate in graduation ceremonies without knowing their final grades. "Every kid will have their diploma before the end of [the school year], no one's being kept from walking," Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said at International High School at Lafayette in Brooklyn, shortly before taking stage to speak at the school's graduation ceremony. "I know that it's stressful and I feel bad for the kids that it's stressful," he said, then added, "I do feel like it's a little bit overblown." Polakow-Suransky's comments came following days of complaints from teachers about the grading process of four of the most-taken Regents tests — Living Environment, Global Studies, U.S. History, and English. The exams are being scored electronically this year through a "distributed scoring system" to improve the efficiency and accuracy of the process used in previous years, which involved teachers grading their own students' exams.
June 20, 2013
With Regents delays stretching on, city recruits overtime scorers
A teacher took these pictures of a computer screen at a Regents exam scoring site today. One message shows that all of the items that had been scanned had already been scored. The other shows that many answers remain to be graded. The Department of Education originally said scoring would be complete today, but the timeline has been extended. The Department of Education is desperately recruiting teachers to make up for Regents exam scoring time that CTB/McGraw-Hill lost. The department needs thousands of graders to work through tens of thousands of test questions that were supposed to be scored already. The scoring hit snags because of breakdowns in the electronic process that the testing company set up, leaving students without scores as high school graduations begin. "As you know, there have been problems in processing and scanning exam materials for the June Global and US History exams which have resulted in delays grading these exams," reads an email that history teachers received late Wednesday. Later, it notes, "Participation is voluntary, and we encourage you to consider taking part in this activity and help to complete the scoring of these exams in as timely a manner as possible." Several teachers said they and their colleagues were torn about whether to take the overtime offer, which would net them just under $42 an hour on Friday night and over the weekend.
June 19, 2013
Regents scoring issues continue to pile up as graduations near
Sweeping and serious problems with a new system for grading high school Regents exams persisted today, the date by which one set of tests was supposed to be completely graded. The new system, designed to curb score inflation, requires teachers to report to central sites to grade answers that have been scanned and meted out by McGraw-Hill, the testing company. Educators from across the city are reporting that teachers were sent back to their schools early again today from grading sites because there were not enough essays to score. At other sites, scorers said they were told to stay put but not given papers to grade. "We arrived at scoring today at 8:30 only to be sent away at 9," wrote a commenter posting as AlvySinger in response to our story about the grading issues from Tuesday. "1:08 pm. Nothing to grade," another commenter wrote. The story has received nearly 50 comments from educators and others who are distressed about the scoring situation. Several readers noted that a solution exists to a different issue that left some essays unreadable in the computer system — but that the fix requires compromising the anonymity of the exams, a main reason for the new scoring system in the first place.
June 18, 2013
Serious glitches with electronic grading delay Regents scores
A slew of glitches in the city’s electronic grading for Regents exams have delayed scores for several subjects, just days before high schools are set to begin holding graduation ceremonies. The problems represent at best a significant inconvenience and cost and at worst a threat to students' scores and graduation status, according to educators with knowledge of the grading process. This is the first June that all Regents exams taken at city high schools are being graded through "distributed scoring," an arrangement devised to prevent teachers from scoring tests taken by students at their schools. Until last year, teachers graded their own students' exams, but under pressure to show that test scores are not inflated, the state barred that practice. The city's scoring system extends the state's rules. After a pilot last year, the Department of Education opted to have four of the most-taken tests — Living Environment, Global Studies, U.S. History, and English — scored electronically. McGraw-Hill, the vendor administering the process, collects the exams at schools, transports them to a scanning site in Connecticut, and then distributes answers one by one to teachers stationed at computers in city grading centers. The company is getting $3.5 million this year from the city to administer the distributed scoring program, part of a $9.6 million, three-year contract to manage the logistical acrobatics that the new arrangement requires.
June 18, 2013
The UFT warns members about Regents exam scoring snafus
The union is blaming the city Department of Education and planning to complain to the state about widespread Regents exam scoring problems, according to this message that just went out to UFT members: Dear colleagues, The city Department of Education has bungled the Regents distributive scoring process this month. In response to the state Education Department’s requirement that teachers not score their own students’ exams, the city DOE created a convoluted system that is extremely inefficient.
June 17, 2013
HS graduation rate fell in 2012, for the first time under Bloomberg
New York City's four-year graduation rate fell slightly last year, from 60.9 percent to 60.4 percent, State Education Commissioner John King announced this morning in Albany. King's announcement, to the Board of Regents during its monthly meeting, set the stage for a press conference that Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott have called for this afternoon. The annual graduation rate announcement is typically a festive occasion for the mayor, who has staked his education legacy in large part on increased numbers of students finishing high school each year. But last year, when the city's graduation rate flattened (showing a 0.1 point decline) after several years of steady growth, Bloomberg acknowledged that tougher graduation requirements could put pressure on the city's graduation rate. Students who entered high school in 2008 were the first required to earn a Regents diploma by passing five Regents exams with a 65 or higher. The less rigorous local diploma option, which for years helped prop up the city’s overall graduation numbers, disappeared, a change that critics said would leave thousands of students at risk of dropping out.
January 28, 2013
Previously unreleased reports reveal familiar test security issues
City educators gave out answers to state test questions, inflated Regents exam scores, and coached students to change incorrect responses dozens of times in recent years, according to reports from a slew of investigations into test improprieties. Responding to a Freedom of Information Law request by GothamSchools for information about complaints about test security, the Department of Education released 97 reports from investigations that concluded violations had taken place. The reports were completed between 2006 and 2012 by the Department of Education's Office of Special Investigations and the independent Special Commissioner of Investigation. Thirty-eight of the reports documented relatively minor violations of administrative protocol. In multiple cases, for example, investigators found that teachers had photocopied exam books when there were too few before getting official permission. But 59 of the reports substantiated allegations about cheating, some of them serious. One of the people found to have participated in cheating in a newly released report told GothamSchools today that an administrative trial ultimately concluded that no misconduct had taken place. The department did not immediately provide details about what happened in the cases after the investigations were over.
November 13, 2012
For some high school math teachers, a Common Core head start
Math teachers from New Visions schools gather for a Common Core training. (Courtesy Tim Farrell, New Visions) The city's teachers union has been clamoring for more time for teachers to prepare for the elementary and middle school state tests, which will be aligned to new curriculum standards this spring. Not so for the city's high school teachers, who have another year to prepare for new tests. The Department of Education is requiring high school teachers to align two units each semester this year to the Common Core. But beyond that, some teachers have said that without assessments to plan backwards from, they are at a loss about how to proceed, while others view the extra year as license to delay making more substantive changes. But some high school teachers are seeking out help with the Common Core now, reasoning that it’s smart to work with the new standards while there's still time to troubleshoot before students face tests based on them. For math teachers at 14 Bronx schools, support is coming from the network hired to support their schools, New Visions for Public Schools. With a $13 million, five-year innovation grant from the U.S. Department of Education and the help of the Silicon Valley Math Initiative, New Visions is piloting a Common Core-aligned ninth-grade algebra curriculum in the hopes that it will challenge students more and build teachers' skills.
October 25, 2012
City: Rate of just-passing Regents scores has dropped by half
Percentage of Regents exams scoring exactly 65, from 2010 to 2012. A series of changes to the way Regents exams are graded has dramatically slimmed down the number of scores that are exactly passing, according to the Department of Education. In 2010, 7 percent of exams citywide received the lowest passing score, a 65. This year, that proportion was just 3.5 percent, officials said. The number of 65s awarded on the five exams required for graduation rose sharply between 2006 and 2009. The recent decline came as the city implemented several new rules prompted by the bulge in the number of 65s, which suggested that teachers might be bumping up the scores of students on the verge of passing, sometimes illicitly. Department officials said the reduction in the number of 65s showed that the policy changes had successfully curbed incentives to pad students' scores. "Even if the higher percentage of 65s wasn’t due to intentional cheating but well-meaning people making sure kids have the best chance to graduate, what we see … is that there isn’t that incentive to push a score to 65," said Deputy Chief Academic Officer Adina Lopatin. The department released the data in response to a new report by the Independent Budget Office that looks at Regents passing patterns for students who entered high school in 2005. Confirming conventional wisdom and a slew of recent studies, the report found that the more Regents exams a student had passed early in high school, the more likely he was to graduate on time.
September 17, 2012
NY Mag looks at Stuyvesant culture in light of cheating scandal
This week's issue of New York Magazine has an in-depth profile of Nayeem Ahsan, the 16-year-old Stuyvesant High School student who helmed the school's recent cheating scandal. Last June, school officials caught Ahsan using his cell phone to help dozens of students cheat on Regents exams, which students must take before graduating. Since then, the city has launched an investigation and threatened many of the students involved with lengthy suspensions. And the school's principal has retired, to be replaced by a former network leader who is also a Stuyvesant parent. In the wake of these events, many GothamSchools readers told us that cheating is more widespread than officials would admit, and expressed suspicions of Principal Jie Zhang's suggestion that the cheating ring was an isolated incident. “I have not been made aware … or have a reason to believe that there is ongoing cheating there," Zhang told reporters in a phone call shortly after being appointed. The magazine piece also suggests otherwise. In addition to detailing Ahsan's methods, which included sharing homework answers, procuring exams given by teachers in previous years, and texting students photos of entire exam booklets during last spring's Regents exams, it describes a culture that encouraged cheating among many. Ahsan said Stuyvesant's educational environment put a premium on high-performance and competition. The structure of his classes often presented opportunities to game the system:
August 6, 2012
P-TECH students act as teachers in summer geometry course
Seifullah (left) cuts a paper cylinder into circles to teach P-TECH students at one table for a lesson on how to calculate volume. All but a handful of ninth- and 10th-graders at Pathways in Technology Early College High School have an ambitious summer goal: to pass the Regents exam in geometry before school starts in September. To that end, they are enrolled in a six-week long summer enrichment class meant to get them up to speed on the information technology-themed school's academic expectations and prepare them to take the state's geometry exam this month. Classes are long — two to four hours each morning — and involve a mix of group projects, drills, homework, and writing assignments. GothamSchools spent the morning in one marathon math class two weeks before the Aug. 16 exam. As the students worked in pairs on projects, four teachers hovered above, sometimes chiming in with explanations of geometry concepts and sometimes reigning students in when they wandered off-task. After class, the lead teacher, Jamilah Seifullah, explained how she kept track of the students and what she wanted them to learn. As when we chronicled Ryan Hall's math class in May, we've included Seifullah's commentary in block quotes beneath our observations. Seifullah, who taught geometry to a small cohort of advanced math students last spring in the school's first year, took turns directing the class with Rachel Jamison, an English teacher who is pitching in with math instruction this summer. Jamison is also offering English lessons, but not for credit and during a shorter class period. With the Regents exam approaching, she and Seifullah agreed to combine the classes for longer math sessions, but weave in tasks that build literacy skills. 10 a.m. Already, 32 P-TECH students had been working in pairs on a major assignment for almost an hour. Sitting at round tables in groups of five or six, each pair was using a computer to put the finishing touches on presentations on various geometry concepts, such as surface area and the isosceles triangle theorem, they would later present to their classmates.
August 1, 2012
Major payroll improprieties alleged at Fort Hamilton High School
The principal of Fort Hamilton High School is under investigation for underpaying more than a dozen new teachers, sources say. A scheme to underpay more than a dozen teachers at a Brooklyn high school has landed the school's longtime principal under investigation. The scheme, which investigators have been probing since this spring, could also put Fort Hamilton High School on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay to teachers so desperate for a position that they accepted one with low pay, no benefits, and little security. The Department of Education's Office of Special Investigations is in the process of investigating Jo Ann Chester, principal of the Bay Ridge school since 1999, a department spokeswoman confirmed. Sources close to the investigation say investigators have been digging into payroll practices at the 4,200-student high school since at least April. The school was already under investigation because of test scores that the city deemed suspicious. Last week, a grievance from a teacher who had been underpaid was sustained, entitling him to back pay, union officials confirmed. The scheme allowed Chester to circumvent three-year-old hiring restrictions and blocked the school from being assigned short-term substitutes from the Absent Teacher Reserve, the city's pool of teachers without permanent positions. It also saved the school hundreds of thousands of dollars.
July 11, 2012
Teachers give new Regents exam scoring system mixed reviews
The brand-new library at Evander Childs opened so teachers from other schools could grade Regents exams there. Last year, the Evander Childs Campus got a new library, replete with rows of new computers and a mural depicting scholarly pursuits. The library opened its doors for the first time last month — but not to students. Instead, it housed teachers from other high school campuses, who convened there to try out a new model for grading students' final exams. Regents exams, which students must pass to graduate from high school, have been scored by the teachers who administered them since the Regents exam program began in the nineteenth century. But mounting concerns about cheating — spurred on by the finding that students hit the minimum passing score at a disproportionately high rate — have prompted the city and state to make changes to how the exams are graded. The state’s test security overhaul calls for schools to stop grading their own Regents exams by June 2013. The changes are meant to reduce opportunities and incentives for teachers to inflate their students’ scores, which under state law could factor into teachers’ evaluations in the future. The shift would bring Regents exam grading in line with how most states score high-stakes exams and with New York State's requirements about elementary and middle schools' exams. Buoyed by its own concerns about cheating and softer forms of score inflation, the city has sped that timeline up. In January, a handful of schools tested out a system to ensure that teachers do not grade their own students’ exams. Department of Education officials expanded that system, known as "distributed scoring," to more than 160 schools this spring. Most of the schools deployed teachers to centralized locations such as Evander Childs, and teachers from 17 schools tested a system for grading exams online. In total, about 107,000 exams were graded under distributed scoring last month. Teachers who participated in the pilot gave it mixed reviews. Some said the system made them better graders because they considered only the answers, not the students, when assigning scores. But others said the system of musical graders was complicated, time-consuming, and likely to lead to unfairly deflated scores. And a small number of missing tests highlight the potential cost of logistical mishaps.
June 19, 2012
Diploma rules for students with disabilities raise hope and fear
For months, advocates for students with special needs have been pushing the state to reconsider a safety net meant to help those students graduate. But when the state’s top education policy-makers sat down in Albany Monday to discuss the issue, they instead floated the idea of making graduation requirements even easier for students who have disabilities. This year, for the first time, all students in New York State will have to pass five Regents exams with a 65 or higher in order to graduate. In the past, students have had the option of getting a less rigorous “local diploma” with some scores of 55 or higher, with the number of 65's required inching upward each year. But the elimination of the local diploma doesn’t extend to students who require special education services: They will still be able to graduate with 55's on their transcripts, even on all five required Regents exams. Advocates say that leniency runs the risk of creating a second-class diploma for students with disabilities, similar to the IEP diploma that is being eliminated. Students had to pass exams known as Regents Competency Tests to get the diploma, but earning one did not qualify graduates for college, work, or the military.
May 23, 2012
Advocates seek last-minute extension of less rigorous diploma
Tougher graduation requirements almost two decades in coming are putting thousands of city students at risk of not earning a diploma this year. Advocates are asking the state to give more students more time before fully implementing more stringent graduation requirements, but city officials say educators and students have had plenty of time to prepare. For the first time, students in New York State will only be able to graduate with a Regents diploma, requiring they receive a 65 or above on at least five Regents exams. In the past, students could graduate with a local diploma, allowing them to receive a 55 on at least five exams. In the 1990s, state officials initiated a change to make requirements for the local diploma increasingly stringent, until it could be phased out. Last year, students were able to receive a local diploma by passing four Regents exams with a 65, and one with a 55. It's impossible to know how many students will be affected, but the Department of Education estimates that 10 percent of the city’s class of 2011— almost 8,000 students — received a local diploma.
March 16, 2012
Common Core's impact grows clearer with sample test items
City and state officials have promised that new curriculum standards, known as the Common Core, would de-emphasize rote learning in favor of critical thinking. But exactly what that would look like wasn't clear when the Common Core first entered the conversation. Now the picture is growing clearer. Earlier this winter, Department of Education officials testifying before members of the City Council during a hearing on college readiness aired a slideshow presentation that showed how the same skills are tested now and how they would be tested once the Common Core is fully rolled out. For example, the high school English Regents exam currently asks students to answer a series of multiple-choice questions that require them to locate pieces of information in texts. On a Common Core-aligned test, they would have to read several different passages and write an essay analyzing their arguments, bringing in information from other sources to bolster the analysis. The Common Core would reshape math tests, too. A sample fifth-grade question asks students to read a paragraph and draw out the relevant information to adjudicate a dispute about three friends' pizza consumption. In contrast, a current exam question simply asks students to add fractions that represent the sizes of two people's meals. The state is scheduled to roll out Common Core-aligned tests in grades 3 through 8 next year.
February 23, 2012
City alters Regents grading, credit recovery policies after audit
The Department of Education is cracking down on graduation rate inflation, following an internal audit that uncovered errors and possible evidence of cheating at 60 high schools. The audits, conducted by the department's internal auditor, scrutinized data at 60 high schools that had posted unusual or striking results. Of the 9,582 students who graduated from the schools in 2010, the audit found that 292 did not have the exam grades or course credits required under state regulations. At one school, Landmark High School, 35 students had graduated without earning all of the academic credits required for graduation. At another, Pablo Neruda Academy for Architecture and World Studies, 19 students had gotten credits through "credit recovery" that the school could not prove complied with state requirements. At two schools, Fort Hamilton High School and Hillcrest High School, an examination of Regents exams uncovered problems in the scoring of multiple students' tests. Department officials said they had asked Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon to launch inquiries at nine schools based on issues raised during the audits. (Schools where investigations were already underway were excluded from the audit.) Students who graduated without sufficient credits won't have their diplomas revoked, officials said. And schools won't have their graduation rates revised to reflect the audited numbers, either, except potentially where the city found schools had purged students from their rolls without confirming that they had enrolled elsewhere. Instead, department officials are cracking down on loopholes in city and state regulations about how to graduate students. Among the major policy changes are revisions to Regents exam scoring procedures, new limitations on "credit recovery" options for students who fail courses, and an alteration to the way schools determine whether a student has met graduation requirements. The changes reflect a new understanding of the degree to which principals had become confused with — or, in some cases, ignorant of — graduation policies. They also reflect an unusual acknowledgment from the Department of Education that its strategies for delivering support to schools and holding them accountable are not always successful.
January 17, 2012
Also in Cuomo's budget: restored exams and other ed initiatives
The fight over teacher evaluations occupied much of Gov. Cuomo's education talk during his budget address today. But his proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts in April actually contains a host of other education policy proposals. Here are some details about each of them. Cuomo's budget proposes to: Make more funding dependent on performance. Cuomo announced a first round of competitive grants for districts that boost test scores and cut costs a year ago and started taking applications in November. Today, he steered another $250 million in competitive grants into that program. Target school aid to high-needs districts. A little more than $300 million of the $800 million in school aid increases will be targeted to the state's highest-need districts. The Alliance for Quality Education — whose head, Billy Easton, has drawn criticism from Cuomo's camp for being "a paid lobbyist for the teachers union" — praised the decision but raised concerns about the competitive component of the state aid proposal. Reverse budget cuts to the state's testing program. Last year, the Board of Regents closed a budget gap by slashing $8 million from the state's testing program. The cut caused the state to eliminate January Regents exams, which some high school students must pass to graduate. In August, Mayor Bloomberg announced that private donors had pitched in to pay for the tests for one year. Next year, public funds will pay for the tests once again.
September 23, 2011
DOE priorities seen in fresh tweaks to progress report formula
In an education department that's driven by data, what gets measured is a clear expression of values. So this year's elementary and middle school progress reports signal that the city is serious about integrating disabled students into regular classes, helping minority boys, and quickly getting immigrant students learning in English. The broad contours of what we'll see later today when the Department of Education releases the newest progress reports, based on the last school year, have been clear for months. Back in the spring, the DOE told principals that it would not insulate schools against steep score drops as it did last year, so we know that more schools will get failing grades that put them at risk of closure. In fact, the department set a fixed distribution of scores: 25 percent of schools will get As, 35 percent Bs, 30 percent Cs, 7 percent Ds, and 3 percent Fs. Last year, just 5 percent of schools were awarded D or F grades. We also know each school's state test scores, announced last month. While high or low average scores don't always equate to high or low progress report grades, because the reports are based mostly on the test scores, they often do. (The department is also guaranteeing that schools with test scores in the top third citywide get no lower than a C; last year, only schools in the top quarter got that promise.) Also, because fewer schools registered large test score gains or losses this year, progress report grades are likely to be relatively stable. That means that the biggest changes could come as the result of the department's annual tinkering with the reports' formula.
August 30, 2011
A one-time critic of testing finds uses for it in her own classroom
It’s a common refrain: Teachers say that high-stakes tests constrain them in the classroom. At our “On Education” panel last week, high school history…
June 20, 2011
City schools chiefs suggest Jan. Regents exam compromise
Last week, Mayor Bloomberg said he wasn't happy about a state decision to eliminate January Regents exams. But he said city officials hadn't decided whether to push back officially against it. Now it appears they have. On Friday, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott joined his counterparts in four other big-city school districts in formally petitioning the state to reinstate the January exam date. They argue that the change will affect urban students disproportionately because those students are more likely to take nontraditional pathways to graduation. (Dozens of principals from suburban Long Island have also joined the chorus of city principals asking for the decision to be reversed.) In separate letters to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and to Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Commissioner of Education John King, the five superintendents — from Syracuse, Buffalo, Yonkers, Rochester, and New York City — suggest a compromise. "At a minimum," they say (twice), the state should consider adding back the five Regents exams typically taken to meet graduation requirements. The letters argue that simply reducing the number of exams offered in January would cut costs but would still allow students to graduate. The elimination of the test date was part of a slate of changes that the Board of Regents said would close an $8 million budget gap in the state's testing program. The letters came from the Conference of Big 5 School Districts, which last weighed in on policy issues in May when it suggested changes to the appeals process for teacher evaluations that were not accepted. The website for the conference listed on the letters sent last week is not active.
June 14, 2011
City officials pushing back against Jan. Regents exam cuts
Momentum is mounting against the state's decision to eliminate the January administration of Regents exams required for high school graduation. City officials have pressured the state to restore the testing period, Mayor Bloomberg said at a press conference today about the city's graduation rate. He called the elimination of January Regents exams "a very big deal" and said restoration would cost the state only "a trivial amount of money." More than 100 city principals have petitioned the state to restore the testing date. At today's press conference, principals union president Ernest Logan also emphasized the relatively low price tag of maintaining the January testing date, often used by students making a final push for graduation. "The state — for a pittance — has decided to take away that option," he said. This year, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said today, 2,400 students took a Regents exam in January and then graduated — roughly the same number of students represented by this year's graduation rate climb. "If January Regents disappear, those students unfortunately will not be able to graduate," he said.
June 14, 2011
Concerns underlie city's grad rate, over 60 percent for first time
The city's 4-year high school graduation rate continued its upward tick last year and now exceeds 60 percent for the first time, according to new figures released by the state today. Sixty-one percent of students who entered high school in 2006 graduated four years later, according to the new figures. Last year, the city's graduation rate was 59 percent. When August graduates are included, the rate rises to 65.1 percent. But the new figures show that city graduates continue to lag on more demanding measures of achievement. Just 1 in 5 graduates is prepared for college, according to the state's measure of college readiness, which looks at students' math and English Regents exam scores in addition to their diploma type. That's compared to 36.7 percent of graduates statewide. And just 16.4 percent of city graduates earned the prestigious Regents diploma with Advanced Distinction, far more than in the state's four other large cities but significantly lower than the statewide average of 30.9 percent, according to the state data. Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott are likely to emphasize the city's performance and growth relative to the state's four other large school districts when they present the new graduation rate at a press conference later today.
May 17, 2011
Elimination of January Regents exams has principals fretting
A change in the state's testing program meant to close an $8 million budget gap could have far-reaching consequences for city students and schools, principals say. The Board of Regents voted yesterday to do away with the January administration of the state exams required for high school graduation. The tests will still be given in June and August. City school officials criticized the change, which had principals across the city lighting up their colleagues' e-mail inboxes with protests of the change. "The state shares our belief in high standards that prepare students for college — so it is somewhat disheartening that the Regents would make a decision that undermines the hopes of high school students who take courses and exams to graduate mid-year," said Chancellor Dennis Walcott in a statement. In 2010, about 360 students used January exams to graduate midyear, out of about 3,800 total midyear graduates, according to Matthew Mittenthal, a Department of Education spokesman. Under the new system, those students would have had to wait until June to try to graduate. But principals say those figures underestimate the effects of the change. Many students use the January dates to increase the number of times they take the Regents exams, which in turns increases their chances of passing in the long term. Students also use the January administration to spread out their tests and avoid burnout.
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