State moves to help students with disabilities

Students with disabilities will soon be able to earn a credential upon graduation that will better reflect their skills and make it easier for them to find work or continue with their education, state officials said Monday.

In its last meeting of the school year, the Board of Regents also said the number of factors considered in teacher and principal evaluations will grow, though the percentage of an educator's rating tied to student performance on state tests will remain the same for now.

The board will vote Tuesday to allow a small cohort of students to earn a career development and occupational studies commencement credential replacing a diploma that state education officials said had little value.


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The students in question are not profoundly disabled -- they do not qualify for the state's alternative assessment -- but are not expected to earn a local or Regents diploma.

"We wanted to build a portfolio for students . . . to demonstrate to employers that they can complete entry-level work," said Ken Slentz, the state's deputy commissioner for elementary and secondary education.

Previously, these students earned "individualized education plan diplomas," but officials said these were merely certificates of attendance. The diplomas are being phased out, leaving this particular group of students without a clear path.

"Right now, they have nothing," said Regents chancellor Merryl H. Tisch. "There is nothing we have to offer them that gives them a substantial pathway."

The new credential will reflect work-based learning experiences, including job shadowing, community service, volunteering and projects in addition to course work. It will become available July 3.

Students who graduate at the end of next school year -- who might not have time to complete its requirements -- will be judged for eligibility based on their principal's assessment of their work and experience.

Slentz said the state has "an enormous amount of work to do" in educating people -- including employers and college and trade school admissions officers -- about the credential.

Regent Roger Tilles said he supports the move, but added, "We have to be very careful to make sure there is no tracking of students." Twenty percent of the state's disabled students will seek this credential alone, officials estimate.

As for the state's teacher and principal evaluation plan, the board decided to continue to tie only 20 percent of an educator's rating to student performance on state exams rather than boost that percentage to 25.

New York State United Teachers, the state's largest teachers union, lauded the move in a statement released after the decision, saying it allows members more time to adjust to tough, new academic standards.

The state will move to 25 percent in 2014-2015, but will allow for "elements and variables to make the system more comprehensive," Tisch said. Those factors, which will be included in educator ratings for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014, will take into account whether or not a student was retained in an earlier grade or is new to the school. It will also note the percentage of students in each child's classroom who have special needs, live in poverty or are English language learners.

Tisch said the move was driven in part by New York City, which only recently adopted an evaluation system -- with just 20 percent of educators' ratings linked to state tests. The chancellor said she supports the delay in part because it will allow the state to move ahead all at once.

"It makes a whole lot of sense," she said. "It gives the whole thing time to bake a little bit."

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