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Regents exploring new high school graduation requirements

Students in a ninth-grade algebra class on May

Students in a ninth-grade algebra class on May 1, 2013, at Center Moriches High School. Credit: Heather Walsh

The state's embattled Board of Regents is moving to quiet a statewide uproar over Common Core testing by exploring other routes through which students can meet high school graduation requirements and earn diplomas.

Options proposed at an Albany board meeting Monday would allow teenagers to get English and math credits without passing state Regents exams in those subjects -- for example, by completing four years of high school culminating in college-level courses.

Courses could include those offered through the Advanced Placement program sponsored by the nonprofit College Board, by the International Baccalaureate program or by local colleges and universities.

Supporters contend the advanced courses provide preparation for college and careers that is equivalent to achievement of scores on the state exams required for graduation.

Ken Wagner, a former Long Island school administrator who is the state's senior deputy education commissioner, told the board that college readiness is complicated and cannot be "captured by a single cut score on a single test."

"Readiness includes academics, but it also includes important skills like persistence and collaboration and creativity," Wagner stated in a PowerPoint presentation.

Regents leaders said new options could be adopted within a year after statewide discussion and debate.

Some board members voiced skepticism that certain types of college courses -- for example, those offered online -- could be relied upon to deliver high-quality instruction without having exams as verification.

Local school administrators applauded the call for more flexible ways to achieve diplomas -- a move they themselves have long advocated.

"They finally heard us," said Lorna Lewis, superintendent of Plainview-Old Bethpage schools and co-chairwoman of a curriculum committee for the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

Currently, students must score at least 65 on five Regents exams, including English and algebra, to graduate. But under new rules already adopted by the Regents, high school seniors graduating in 2022 or later must get higher scores of 74 in English Language Arts and 79 in algebra.

Those cutoff scores reflect a recent revision. The board originally had set the passing scores for the Class of 2022 and beyond at 75 in English and 80 in algebra. The downward adjustment was made to take into account Regents exams based on national Common Core academic standards, which are generally regarded as more rigorous than the state standards formerly used.

During the past year, the Regents have faced a rising tide of anti-test protests by parents and teachers unions who are angered by added pressures on students and on teachers, whose performance evaluations depend partly on test results.

On Long Island, protest rallies in Brookville, Patchogue, Old Westbury and Hicksville over the past week have drawn thousands of participants.

On March 10, state lawmakers led by Assembly Democrats responded to public anger by ousting two longtime Regents who had sought new terms.

Merryl Tisch of Manhattan, chancellor of the Regents board, who has led a drive for higher academic standards since 2010, said Monday she would resist any move to reverse course. Tisch acknowledged, however, that greater flexibility in graduation requirements is needed.

"When people push back, I listen," she said.

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