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Regents mulls new pathways to graduation

A Regents exam.

A Regents exam. Photo Credit: Newsday/Karen Wiles Stabile, 2010

ALBANY -- The State Board of Regents is considering two new "pathways to graduation" for high school students -- one focusing on science, technology, engineering and math, and the other on career and technology education.

The change could make a global history course optional.

Current regulations require students earning a Regents diploma to pass with a 65 percent score or better on final exams in English-language arts, math, science, global history and geography, plus U.S. history and government. Those with disabilities must take the same courses, but can pass their tests with a score as low as 55.

The board has said the global history test is among the toughest to pass; its exam is given after two years of study, encompassing everything from Paleolithic times to the current era.

Some Regents members said Monday they were reluctant to drop the course because they worry students will be at a disadvantage as they enter a global workforce.

They're already concerned about young people's lack of knowledge of world events, fearing they might grow into uninformed adults.

James O. Jackson told fellow board members he was concerned that students would become even less prepared for college. The State University of New York already spends some $70 million on remediation.

"This is a real concern of mine," he said, reminding the board it once required eight exams for a Regents diploma. "I think we have lost something."

The State Education Department made several recommendations to the Board of Regents Monday, including making the global studies course optional. The department recommends the changes take place by the 2013-14 school year.

Regent Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents Long Island on the board, said he wants the Regents to be more flexible in their requirements.

"It is important for us to have exams in these areas but not necessarily for the purpose of passing all five," he said.

Gloria Sesso, co-president of the Long Island Council for the Social Studies and a history teacher for 40 years, called the idea a mistake.

"Unless you test it, it will not be taught," she said. "They are racing to the bottom as they race to the top. They are dumbing down their curriculum."

The board is trying to ditch the test because it's too challenging for students, she said.

"If you don't like the test, create a new one," said Sesso, director of social studies at the Patchogue-Medford school district. "You don't eliminate the exam because it is difficult."

High school curriculum wasn't always described as being "college and career ready," said Regent James C. Dawson.

Back then, he said, "We talked about the importance of citizenship."

Dawson said the proposal goes too far.

Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch said she's a "great believer" in having a "worldwide focus" on history, but that the proposal raises important questions in a thoughtful way.

"This is not a conversation about moving away from global studies," she said, "but about reinventing the efficacy of global studies" and creating a tiered approach to graduation.

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