The state is widening its academic safety net for thousands of special education students on Long Island and across New York who now must take Regents exams in order to earn regular high school diplomas.
Under a rules change approved Tuesday by a Board of Regents committee, students with disabilities who score 45 through 54 out of a possible 100 on a state Regents exam still may qualify for a local diploma, as long as they compensate with a score of 65 or higher on another Regents exam.
Prior to the change, the lowest score allowed for credit was 55, and there was no compensatory allowance from another test result.
All nine committee members present, at their meeting in Albany, approved the change. The preliminary vote virtually guarantees final approval by the full 17-member board, scheduled to meet this morning.
State Education Department officials, who report to the Regents, pushed for quick approval of the change on grounds that special education students face increasing academic pressure.
That's because the state is phasing out its Regents Competency Tests, which are easier than Regents exams and have long served as optional alternatives. Only 11th- and 12th-graders with disabilities still qualify to take the RCTs.
"We need to send a signal to those kids who don't have options," said Ken Slentz, the state's deputy commissioner for elementary and secondary education. "Their options are limited now, quite limited."
For example, a total of 2,056 Long Island students took the state's competency test in Global Studies during the 2010-11 school year, and 2,021 students took the competency test in math. Those are the two batteries most often administered. Statewide, 17,807 students took the Global Studies test; 18,868 the math test.
Some parents and local school officials had pushed for the new option, saying that phasing out competency tests without any scoring adjustments to now-required tests could cause struggling teens to drop out of school. Another argument in favor of the change was that even some students capable of passing most Regents exams probably would fall short in at least one subject.
"I think it makes sense," said Larry Greenstein, a Port Washington school board member and former president of the Nassau Coordinating Council of Special Education PTAs. "If a kid isn't good in science, he's never going to pass a Regents exam."
Even under the change, such students still must earn minimum 55 scores on Regents exams in Comprehensive English and math. But more latitude will be allowed on the other required exams in Global History, U.S. History and Government and science.
State officials have grappled since 1995 with the question of how to help special education students meet rising graduation standards.That was the year that the state first decided to phase in Regents exams, written at a minimum college-prep level, as a universal requirement for diplomas.