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Long IslandEducation

State Regents launch revamp of graduation, testing standards for students

Roger Tilles speaks to fellow members of the

Roger Tilles speaks to fellow members of the New York State Board of Regents discussing graduation standards during a meeting Monday in Albany. Credit: Hans Pennink

Albany — State education authorities announced the official kickoff Monday of efforts to revamp high school graduation requirements, but postponed until January a series of public workshops on the controversial standards overhaul.

The scheduling change means that any Long Islanders who hoped to sound off on the subject of state exams and how they are used to determine who gets a diploma will have to wait a couple extra months for the opportunity.

In Albany, meanwhile, education officials said research has just begun on diploma standards in other states and nations — information that they said will help New York in its own efforts to boost graduation rates and see that students are better prepared for colleges and careers. New York will be supported in this work by Achieve, a nonprofit research and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., and by a $100,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Kimberly Young Wilkins, an assistant state commissioner for innovation and school reform, told the Board of Regents at a Monday meeting that she was excited by the chance to apply research findings to New York’s standards review.

“We really want to focus on innovative models,” Wilkins said.  

New York’s plan to “rethink” its current diploma requirements, including its current heavy emphasis on Regents exams, comes at a moment when the state’s school leadership is in transition. Nine high-ranking officials in the state Education Department have either resigned since March or announced an imminent departure, and officials have said that a new agency head will be named soon.

Originally, the first phase of the diploma overhaul — a series of regional workshops, including at least one on the Island — was to run from November to January and to give local school administrators, teacher union leaders and others a chance to voice their opinions. Phase one was to be followed by the appointment in February of a blue-ribbon commission that would ultimately issue recommendations for specific changes.

Under a revised schedule, released Monday at the Regents meeting, the workshops will begin in January and run through March. Appointment of the advisory commission has been moved back to April.

In recent weeks, many local school leaders and their representatives in Albany had voiced concern that turnover in the education department would hobble efforts to overhaul diploma rules in a thoughtful manner. Supporters of the effort denied this Monday, saying the delayed workshops were only part of a broader push already underway.

Emily DeSantis, assistant education commissioner for public affairs, who is helping to organize the project, said the scheduling change was intended largely to avoid holding workshops during a busy holiday season. She added that the department hoped to provide a report to the Regents in February based on the review of research reports about graduation standards.

One Regents board member, Susan Mittler, of Ithaca, raised a question about the involvement of the Gates Foundation, which has generated controversy in other areas, including its support of national Common Core academic standards.

“I’m concerned about the strings that might be attached,” said Mittler, who formerly served as president of Ithaca’s teacher union.

Beth Berlin, the state’s current interim education commissioner, indicated there would be no strings. Berlin announced last month that she would step down Nov. 15.

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