Thousands of struggling special-education students could find new opportunities to earn high school diplomas under rules changes that won initial approval Monday by the state’s Board of Regents.
The changes cut the number of required Regents exams from four to two, while giving local superintendents more power over deciding who qualifies.
The eased regulations, which would take effect with students graduating this month, passed 16-0 in a Regents committee handling preschool through grade 12 education. The decision virtually ensures adoption when the full 17-member board meets Tuesday morning, though an additional procedural vote must be taken in September.
The Regents’ action is aimed in part at meeting concerns of parent organizations, including vocal groups on Long Island, who complain that tougher Common Core exams and other state initiatives pushed through in recent years threaten to deprive otherwise qualified special-education students of diplomas that can be used to find jobs or enter colleges.
The proposal advanced Monday by Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia would provide diplomas to students earning “low pass” scores of at least 52 out of 100 on Regents exams in English and algebra. Such students would be exempted from passing exams in science and social studies, in cases where they took the exams and failed.
However, teachers would have to pass such students in their coursework, and superintendents would get the final say over whether the teens qualified for diplomas.
The new requirements would apply each year only to seniors earning so-called local diplomas, which are issued by individual school districts. To earn state-endorsed Regents diplomas, the great majority of students will have to continue meeting current requirements, which call for passing scores of 65 or better on at least four Regents exams.
Elia said at Monday’s meeting that the state’s graduation standards remained rigorous, despite the elimination of some exam mandates for students with disabilities. Such students, to comply with the new rules, would continue taking courses taught at a Regents level, which represents basic preparation for college.
“We’re all here to ensure students graduate from high school ready for the future,” the commissioner said.
A few individual Regents said they supported the new graduation policy, despite their expectations that some educators and others might think they were watering down standards.
On the other hand, several Long Island parents attending the meeting told a reporter afterward that the new rules did not go far enough in ensuring high-school diplomas for students who were capable of handling jobs or college courses, but unable to do well on paper-and-pencil tests.
“I’m not satisfied,” said Bonnie Buckley, 53, an East Islip parent whose daughter is an 11th grader. “This does not meet the needs of my child and many others.”
Buckley said her daughter, who accompanied her to Albany, scored 48 last year on a Regents Global History exam.
Buckley and some other parents would like to see the state return to the use of Regents Competency Tests in determining who qualifies for local diplomas. RCT assessments, which were phased out several years ago, were easier than Regents exams.
Regents board members and other state officials have contended that returning to use of competency tests would inevitably result in greater tracking of students, with some classes preparing for Regents exams while others prepare for RCTS.
In 2012, the Regents also decided to eliminate so-called IEP diplomas, which had been provided many special-education students in the past. IEP stands for Individualized Education Program — the unique special classwork and other services mapped out for those with disabilities.
The Regents, as a substitute, approved new Skills and Achievement Commencement Credentials, which were meant to provide a more accurate description of what students had actually achieved in school. However, parents and other critics of this approach complained the new credentials were not being recognized by colleges and employers.
Elia estimated that as many as 2,200 students might qualify for diplomas under the rules change approved Monday, though she added that such calculations were inexact. In 2015, more than 15,800 special-education students statewide, including 1,400 on the Island, completed four years of high school without receiving diplomas.