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Board of Regents says it needs more time to evaluate diploma requirements

Emily DeSantis, a spokeswoman for the state Education

Emily DeSantis, a spokeswoman for the state Education Department, said Monday that a blue-ribbon advisory commission's work on graduation requirements should be completed in about two years. Credit: Hans Pennink

ALBANY — The state’s Board of Regents has abruptly dropped its use of a prominent national research group that had served as a consultant in the review of high school graduation requirements, education officials said Monday.

State education officials, who report to the Regents, said the review will be extended to 2022, and include a series of regional meetings in March where local school administrators, teachers and others will share their views on diploma issues.

Two of the meetings announced Monday are scheduled for Long Island. A March 4 meeting will be held 5-8 p.m. at Eastern Suffolk BOCES’s Instructional Support Center at Sequoya in Holtsville. A March 27 meeting will be held 8:30-11:30 a.m. at Western BOCES’s Conference Center in Wheatley Heights. A meeting where high school students will have a chance to speak is scheduled for Feb. 10 in Nassau County.

The research group, Achieve, based in Washington, D.C., began working with the Regents on graduation requirements in November. Achieve has been replaced by another nonprofit organization, San Francisco-based WestEd.

Achieve was created in 1996 by a bipartisan group of the nation’s governors and business leaders as part of a national push to better prepare students for college and careers. However, the consulting agency ran afoul of some parent groups on Long Island and elsewhere, due to its support of controversial Common Core academic standards.

Emily DeSantis, a spokeswoman for the department, said Achieve had been dropped as a consultant “due to concerns raised by stakeholders.”

Achieve’s president, Michael Cohen, said in a phone interview Monday that his agency initially was asked by the state to provide support, that the reasons for the state’s change of mind were not entirely clear, but that he was aware of the political battle waged in New York over Common Core standards and tests.

The struggle included a series of massive annual test boycotts, which at its peak included 50% of eligible Long Island students in grades three through eight.

“Hopefully, they can keep those battles behind them,” Cohen said.

Some parent leaders on the Island welcomed the Regents’ decision to change consultants.

“New York State has the capacity to do this work itself,” said Bonnie Buckley, a former East Islip PTA leader who now lives in Bellport. “So, I’m very happy about Achieve being gone.”

Meanwhile, the Regents board, which sets much of the state’s educational policy, has decided for the second time in five months that it needs more time to complete its review of diploma requirements. Much of the re-evaluation is focused on the state’s use of Regents exams, and on other academic measures that might serve as substitutes for those exams.

The review, announced in July by then-Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia just before she resigned, was originally intended to be completed by the fall of 2020. In September, that timeline was extended to the fall of 2021, and now it is being pushed back again to the winter of 2022.

DeSantis said in a statement that the longer timeline would allow Elia’s permanent successor, once he or she is chosen, to fully engage in the planned overhaul of graduation requirements. The department’s chief legal counsel, Shannon Tahoe, currently is serving as interim commissioner; a permanent successor is to be named in coming months, possibly by June.

As part of the extended schedule, the Regents next summer are to appoint a blue-ribbon advisory commission, which will hold a series of meetings and recommend specific changes in graduation requirements by the winter of 2022.

“Under this updated timeline, the commission’s work will be completed in approximately two years, and this is by design so ample stakeholder and public feedback can be part of the process,” DeSantis stated.

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