Board of Regents proposes high school essay requirement

Students in Andrea Cavaliere?s 9th grade algebra class

Students in Andrea Cavaliere’s 9th grade algebra class at Center Moriches High School in Center Moriches study for the upcoming Regents exam. (May 1, 2013) (Credit: Heather Walsh)

A plan requiring all students to write 1,250-word research papers to earn high school diplomas is getting the nod from the state's top education policymakers.

The proposed essay requirement was reviewed Monday by a committee of the state Board of Regents. Proposed regulations will be posted for educators throughout the state to review.

The student essay would put New York at the forefront of states in terms of writing requirements, officials said.


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The Education Commission of the States, a Denver-based agency that collects data on school trends, said it knows of no state with such an extensive essay requirement. Many states, including New York, already mandate that students demonstrate writing skills through shorter efforts on English tests or by other means.

Approval by the full Regents board is scheduled for November, though board chairman Merryl Tisch, of Manhattan, voiced uncertainty over whether final action would come that soon.

"I believe in this with all my heart and soul," Tisch said of the proposed requirement. She voiced doubts, however, over the way the plan may be carried out by school districts -- particularly whether teachers from different academic fields would have a chance to collaborate on the effort.

Regents had postponed action on the new writing requirement in April, in part because some board members believed the plan was being rushed too fast by the state Education Department.

As the plan now stands, students entering ninth grade in fall 2014 would be the first affected. Students could submit papers at any time during their high school years. The department originally had proposed beginning the requirement with this year's ninth-graders.

More than 30,000 graduates on Long Island alone would have to fulfill the requirement at some point during their four years in high school if the plan is adopted.

Research papers would be a minimum five pages in length, double-spaced, similar to those typically written in introductory college courses. Students would support their thesis, or central argument, with evidence drawn from at least four nonfiction works.

In most cases, papers would be written on computers.

Supervision of writing projects would not be confined to English teachers alone. The revised plan would allow such projects to be supervised by educators in other fields -- a science teacher teaming up with a high school librarian, for instance.

Gloria Sesso, social studies director in the Patchogue-Medford school district, welcomed the opportunity for teachers in her field to get involved. "My instinct is that a research paper should be a collaboration between English and social studies," she said.

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