State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, left, and Regents Chancellor Betty...

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, left, and Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa during a state Board of Regents meeting on Monday, May 8, 2017, in Albany. Credit: Mike Groll

ALBANY — A statewide high school graduation rate of 95 percent is a long-range goal under an ambitious draft plan presented Monday to the state Board of Regents.

Several Regents voiced skepticism over the proposed graduation target and other provisions of the plan, including steps to increase student test participation and discourage boycotts against state exams that have erupted across Long Island and the state during the past five years.

The 159-page blueprint would carry out requirements of the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, signed by President Barack Obama in December 2015. It is the product of 18 months’ work by Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, her staff and consultants.

The Regents are scheduled in September to vote on a final plan, which would be submitted to the U.S. Education Department for approval. The approved measure would take effect in the 2018-19 school year.

Other key provisions include:

  • Schools would gain greater state recognition for achievement by high school students on college-level Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams.
  • State ratings of schools would be based in part on students’ academic improvement, in addition to current benchmarks, such as graduation rates and passing percentages on state tests.
  • The state would expand annual school ratings to include data on chronic student absenteeism. On the positive side, the ratings would include data on student engagement in civic activities.

Graduation numbers are a controversial issue for New York state, which ranks below the national average in that area although its spending on public schools is among the nation’s highest. The most recent national average, from 2014-15, is 83.2 percent.

The latest New York figures, released in February, show graduation rates averaged 79.4 percent statewide and 88.9 percent on the Island. Those figures, of June 2016 graduates, are not directly comparable to the 95 percent target, which would include students graduating in August as well as June.

Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa, of the Bronx, urged members to set high expectations for students under the ESSA plan.

“All kids can do this,” said Rosa, a former New York City school administrator. “I think if we start under the assumption that only some kids can do this, we hold ourselves back.”

However, board member Luis Reyes, a researcher at Hunter College in Manhattan, said the graduation goal would prove “delusional” unless the state provides more equitable funding for schools in poor neighborhoods.

Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents Long Island on the board, said he respects the educational experience of board colleagues, but added in reference to the diploma target, “Right now, I want to make sure that it’s a realistic goal.”

The state has set ambitious academic goals in the past, only to retreat later.

Last month, the Education Department informed local districts that it was dropping plans to raise passing scores on Common Core Regents exams in English and math by the year 2022. Those plans originally were regarded as a linchpin in the state effort, launched in 2010, to ensure that all high school graduates were “college- and career-ready.”

Another controversial part of the draft plan would deal with districts where student test-participation repeatedly drops below 95 percent. Such is the case for many districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties, which have been hotbeds of the test-boycott movement — with especially high opt-out numbers in the last three years.

Under the state’s ESSA compliance plan, such districts would be required to come up with their own proposals for improving test-taking rates.

If districts failed to meet their targets, the state would call on regional BOCES districts or other outside agencies to step in and help make improvements. That was according to state education officials who briefed reporters on the plan Monday, on the condition they not be named.

The draft plan is slated for discussion and debate at 13 regional hearings across the state. The first hearing, for Long Island, is scheduled at 6 p.m. Thursday at Half Hollow Hills High School East in Dix Hills.

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