New York Regents Ease Graduation Reqs for Students with Disabilities

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

Earlier this week, the New York State Board of Regents, the highest education authority in the state, voted to make it easier for students with disabilities to graduate from high school.

The new regulation will require students with individualized education plans to pass two Regents exams, math and English, in place of the typical five required for graduation. Although they would still need to take the three additional exams – for social studies, science, and an optional subject – the district superintendent could still grant them a diploma if they did not pass the test given at the end of the year but had demonstrated proficiency in the topic through their completed coursework. In the event that this happened, students would earn a local diploma, accepted by colleges, the military, and employees, rather than the Regents diploma.

The regulation will go into effect immediately, offering students the ability to take advantage this year as schools prepare to begin administering the Regents exams this week. According to the chancellor of the Board of Regents, Betty A. Rosa, the Board of Education predicts the move will help between 1.300 and 2,000 students graduate this year alone, writes Kate Taylor for The New York Times.

The changes are part of a group of efforts made by New York policymakers over the last several years to help more students in the state graduate high school. The decision to eliminate the need to take several of the Regents exams is a significant one for the state, since one in every five students in New York City alone has a disability. Close to half of all graduates with disabilities chose to accept a local diploma this year.

"We know that all students are capable of achieving this accomplishment," State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said Monday. "It's on us to offer them multiple pathways to do so, pathways that are rigorous."

The efforts to increase the number of pathways students can take to graduate in the state have been in the works since 2012, when the passing score for Regents exams was raised to 65 from 55.

Students with disabilities have been carefully considered throughout the discussion, as only 40% of students with disabilities in New York City graduate within four years, with some educators and advocates arguing that the new standards could cause even further trouble for students with disabilities, writes Monica Disare for Chalkbeat.

However, not everyone approves of the recent move. Some are concerned that it could negatively effect students by reducing expectations.

"This does not sound like a step in the right direction to me," said Mark Anderson, a special education teacher at Jonas Bronck Academy in a comment on a previous story about the change. "What sort of expectations are we conveying for success in academics if we make it ‘easier' for some?"

Rosa has previously criticized what she considers to be an overemphasis on standardized tests in the evaluation of both teachers and students, announcing that the Regents would be taking closer look at graduation requirements in the state.

In a separate vote on Monday, the Regents approved a measure to allow school districts to apply for a waiver to one of the requirements of the teacher evaluation used in the state that asks teachers and principals be observed by independent evaluators in addition to their direct supervisors. The vote will allow the requirement to be waived as long as districts are able to prove that compliance with the rule would cause financial hardship, in addition to other conditions.

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