Thousands of special-education students gained the option of graduating with state certification of job skills attained during their high school years, under regulations approved Tuesday by the Board of Regents.
The state Regents postponed action on an unrelated graduation proposal -- a mandatory 1,250-word research paper for all students seeking regular diplomas -- saying they needed more time for review.
The new proof-of-training certificates, to be known as Career Development and Occupational Studies Commencement Credentials, will become available starting in the next school year. An estimated 81,000 students are eligible statewide, including 10,000 on Long Island.
Supporters of the new credentials say such documents will be more meaningful than existing Individualized Education Program Diplomas, or IEPs, because they will specify occupational courses that students have completed.
Opponents, however, object to the upcoming loss of the word "diploma," which they say is more familiar to potential employers than "credential."
Distribution of IEP diplomas will end in June. Such papers signify that students have completed individual education plans that, in the case of severe disabilities, can mean they have learned basic living skills such as dressing themselves.
Roger Tilles of Great Neck, the Island's representative to the Regents board, said Tuesday that "an employer might be able to take a chance" on an untried job applicant with a disability, provided the candidate holds a state credential attesting to specific skills.
Critics of the change fear the opposite result.
"Almost all the big-box stores and other potential employers require that you have a high school diploma," said Roy Probeyahn of Manorville, a retired insurance adjuster who has three adult sons with disabilities. "If the answer is 'no,' they consider you a dropout."
Teenagers could earn career credentials either through on-the-job training or two or more yearlong courses in occupational specialties.
On Monday, the Regents put off a decision on another plan, one that would require most high school students to write five-page research papers, typically in 11th grade.
Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. and his chief deputy for elementary-secondary education, Ken Slentz, had sought the board's OK this month. Their rationale was that speedy approval would move New York State toward fuller compliance with new national Common Core academic standards, more rigorous than those now in place.
Tilles and several other board members objected that the proposal had come as a surprise, both for them and for educators across the state.
"We have people saying, 'It's the first time I'm hearing about it,' " said Betty Rosa, a Regents representative and school principal from the Bronx.
Some Regents also contended that the proposal was too narrow, because it treated research papers solely as assignments to be supervised by English teachers, rather than specifying that teachers of social studies and other subjects also could be involved.
At the opening of Monday's meeting, the board's chairman, Merryl Tisch, noted objections that had been heard from around the state and announced that no vote would be taken immediately. Regents plan to revisit the proposal in June.