Dr. Gladys I. Cruz

The Board of Regents and State Education Department (SED) have started a review of the state’s high school graduation measures. The department is preparing to hold a series of regional forums starting in January to gather feedback to help inform the work of a Blue-Ribbon Commission to be established next year.

As District Superintendent of Questar III – the BOCES serving public schools in Rensselaer, Columbia and Greene counties and providing services to nearly every school district and BOCES in the state – I was part of a small group of BOCES District Superintendents that initially researched this topic and provided feedback to SED.

I applaud the Board of Regents for undertaking this long-due effort to review graduation policies and practices (including the future of the mandatory Regents Exams used since 1878). It is time for these requirements to be reassessed to ensure that they meet the needs of the state’s diverse student population – and revised to ensure that students are better prepared for college, careers and civic engagement.

I encourage the public – including parents, business, higher education and others – to provide feedback as part of SED’s informational gathering process. Ultimately, our education leaders will need to come to consensus about what the diploma should mean and what a young person needs to know and be able to do after high school.

Looking across the country, there is much diversity across the 50 states in terms of the required number of credits, course sequences, differentiated pathways and other proficiency-based options. In fact, state graduation requirements range from none to 26 credits. Five states, including Massachusetts, have no state level credit requirements (this is determined by local school boards).

Given its proximity, let’s look at Massachusetts for comparison. While the state leaves the number of credits up to local school boards, it offers guidance in terms of coursework and credits through its MassCore program of study. In New York, graduation requirements remain closely aligned to recommendations made in 1892 by the Committee of Ten, a panel led by a Harvard University president that recommended a strong, liberal arts education.

Our students need more than 22 credits in college preparatory programs given that not all will seek a college degree. Furthermore, changes in society – from technology to jobs – require different skill sets and experiences that those used, valued or understood in the 19th century. There are also different ways that students can demonstrate their competency or readiness beyond year-end exams.

The state’s informational gathering phase will focus on the following guiding questions according to the SED.

  1. What do we want our children to know and to be able to do before they graduate?
  2. How do we want them to demonstrate such knowledge and skills?
  3. To what degree does requiring passage of Regents exams improve student achievement, graduation rates, college and career readiness, and civic engagement?
  4. What other measures of achievement (e.g., capstone projects, alternative assessments or engagement in civic and community activities) could serve as indicators of high school completion?
  5. How can measures of achievement accurately reflect the skills and knowledge of our special populations, such as students with disabilities and English language learners?

What does it mean to hold a high school diploma in New York State? This discussion is just beginning, so I encourage you to provide feedback and stay updated by visiting www.nysed.gov/grad-measures. We need to be thoughtful so that every child has access to a high-quality education, no matter their background, ability, interest or zip code– and so that our state’s graduation measures reflect modern day realities and best practices grounded in an information and technology driven world.

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