Deputy state Education Commissioner Kimberly Young Wilkins in 2019. "By...

Deputy state Education Commissioner Kimberly Young Wilkins in 2019. "By promoting civic readiness in schools, our goal is to develop students' abilities across lines of difference and elevate historically marginalized voices," she wrote.   Credit: Hans Pennink

Students who devote 40 hours' volunteer work to civic-action projects and meet other requirements could earn credit toward graduation and skip a Regents exam, under a pilot project approved unanimously Tuesday by the state's Board of Regents.

Starting next June, students enrolled in the project who demonstrate both civic knowledge and ability to function as citizens would earn academic points, not only for themselves but also for their school districts. Such points would count as state measures of school quality.

Supporters of the state's new "Civic Readiness Pathway" describe it as a means of preparing teens to meet personal goals, such as financial independence, while also enabling them to become "positive agents of social change." The pathway program results from a study launched in 2018 by a state task force that included curriculum experts, school administrators, college professors and representatives of civic groups statewide.

The project is part of the state's broader "diversity, equity and inclusion" initiative aimed at promoting fair opportunities for children from all walks of life.

"Our nation's public schools were founded to develop citizens with knowledge about the rights and responsibilities of state government," stated a paper issued by Kimberly Young Wilkins, a deputy state education commissioner, to explain the project. "By promoting civic readiness in schools, our goal is to develop students' abilities across lines of difference and elevate historically marginalized voices."

Despite the project's ambitious goals, some curriculum experts said they are maintaining a wait-and-see attitude on the question of whether the project would maintain academic rigor. Social-studies specialists noted that students who meet the new requirements could simultaneously drop an older requirement and forgo a Regents exam, either in U.S. History and Government or Global History and Geography.

Gloria Sesso, co-president of the Long Island Council for the Social...

Gloria Sesso, co-president of the Long Island Council for the Social Studies. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

"They're nice words, aren't they, civic readiness?" said Gloria Sesso, co-president of the Long Island Council for the Social Studies. "But how are you going to make sure it's reliable and valid?"

The state's next planned step is to enlist a small group of districts to offer civic-readiness training on a pilot basis this fall. The state already requires all students to complete a one-semester course on Participation in Government.

State graduation rules generally require students to pass five Regents exams but provide multiple exceptions. For example, students who want to skip one of the state's two history exams can take an optional sequence of courses instead.

In addition to civic-readiness, other options include career and technical studies, as well as course concentrations in math, science, world languages and the arts.

In 2020, the latest year recorded, more than 32,000 Long Island high school graduates, or 95% in all, opted to meet traditional diploma requirements. Another 891 opted for a sequence of science courses, 201 for math courses, and 170 for career and technical studies.

To fulfill the new civic-readiness requirements, students must demonstrate knowledge of the subject by earning course credit, passing a Regents exam, or completing a research project. Students also must demonstrate practical proficiency in the subject through such means as 40 hours of volunteer work, completing a civics project, or passing an elective course.

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