Thousands of special-education students across New York who fail state exams required for regular diplomas could earn occupational training certificates under a plan scheduled for final Board of Regents action next month.
Education officials who outlined the plan in Albany said the proposed Certificate of Career Development and Occupational Studies would recognize achievements of teens with disabilities who complete its requirements -- either on-the-job training, or two or more yearlong courses in occupational specialties.
Such fields range from computer programming and graphic design to food processing and auto repair.
An estimated 81,000 students statewide, including 10,000 on Long Island, eventually could qualify for the proposed certificates, education officials said. Credentials would be available both for students who do not earn regular diplomas, and for those who earn diplomas and wish to document occupational training as well.
"We want a certificate that's meaningful when those kids enter the workplace," said Ken Slentz, the state's deputy commissioner for elementary and secondary education.
Advocates said the credential would encourage more teens with disabilities to complete their studies, and thus reduce dropout rates. Those rates run an estimated 16 percent statewide.
The plan got the nod Monday from a Regents committee in charge of elementary and secondary education, and is scheduled for a vote by the full board next month.
Some Regents remain divided on the question of whether the new certificate should bear the name of the board, or whether that would give the impression that the credential is an academic diploma rather than a job-skills certificate. Education officials who report to the Regents said they would come back with a final recommendation on that issue next month.
Creation of career credentials is part of a broader statewide shift in graduation requirements for students with disabilities, who represent about 14 percent of the New York public-school population.
The state began phasing out use of Regents Competency Tests for those students in 2011, requiring them to take the more difficult Regents exams to graduate. State education officials expect that the change will encourage more teens to earn diplomas by earning minimum 55 scores on Regents exams.
Those officials acknowledge that some students probably will not meet the higher standard, and will seek career credentials instead. In addition, the state offers a Skills and Achievement Commencement Credential for students with the most severe disabilities who do not complete academic or occupational courses.
Some educators, including heads of regional BOCES school systems, which provide occupational training, would like to further broaden graduation opportunities for teens who have difficulty passing state Regents exams. One proposal under consideration in Albany would allow all students to substitute coursework in art, music or occupational fields for certain academic courses.
Opponents of that idea, including many black and Hispanic educators, contend that allowing substitutions could result in increased "tracking" of minority students into non-academic subjects.
Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents the Island on the Regents board, acknowledged those concerns Monday, but added that the state should do more to recognize the accomplishments of students who are talented in non-academic fields.
"Juilliard will take kids if they haven't passed certain tests that we require," Tilles said, referring to the well-known, private school of performing arts in Manhattan.
In a related action, the Education Department announced last week that it has contracted with the Manhattan-based conglomerate of CTB/McGraw-Hill to develop a new test battery for older students seeking General Educational Development, or GED, diplomas. That action, approved by the Regents, was prompted by a decision by the nonprofit American Council on Education, which sponsors the current GED test, to form a for-profit subsidiary to publish the test in cooperation with Pearson Incorporated, another conglomerate.
State education officials said the American Council of Education's plan would roughly double the cost of GED tests to $120, an expense that the state picks up on behalf of GED diploma candidates. Development of an alternative test would hold costs to approximately the current levels, state officials added.