New York to Offer Job-Focused Tests as Graduation Option

Under a new plan approved by the New York State Board of Regents, the state's students will be able to use trade school exams to meet graduation requirements.

One of the goals of the "multiple pathways" measure is to increase the amount of students to graduate with the advanced skills necessary to succeed at a well-paying job. Currently, only 37% of high school graduates in the state have test scores that show they are ready for college and future careers.

Supporters, which include business representatives and the New York State United Teachers, say the move will allow students to stay more focused and motivated throughout their high school years.

Critics, on the other hand, believe the plan will only succeed if it goes beyond an exam swap to offer students more on-the-job training with potential employers.

"It's a good first step and acknowledges the reality of the economy," said Grover J. "Russ" Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution. "But it's insufficient and will fail… if it doesn't involve a serious investment in apprenticeships."

Many hope the plan will highlight the importance of career training, and inspire schools to expand their vocational programs, as tests typically drive what is taught in the classroom.

Students in the state currently need to pass five Regents exams: math, English, science, and two in social studies.

The new plan would allow students to forgo one of the social studies exams, either American history or global studies, and replace it with one in Career and Technical Education or another science or math exam. Students will still need to pass four years of social studies in order to receive a high school diploma.

If the measure is approved, it would affect this year's seniors.

Career and Technical Education currently include 13 proposed exams which would reflect on several years of coursework. The tests are industry-certification tests, like the CompTIA A+, created by a grouping of information-technology companies.

The idea is appealing to high schoolers across the state, who say the offer gives them motivation to attend classes, may help to raise grades, and could cause them to want to continue their education.

"It really helped me find what I wanted to do in life," said Nikolay Yunger, a 17- year-old senior in Rochester, N.Y.,, whose father is a maintenance employee and whose mother works in a factory. "It made me realize school is in my hands."

Chancellor of the Board of Regents Merryl Tisch has said that the US is falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to offering career and technical training. If the measure goes through, it could potentially lower the dropout rate she said, and that it ends up being about "relevance, and paying attention to what makes kids persist in school."

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