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Long IslandEducation

Regents weigh exam exemptions in graduation requirements

High school students statewide could win exemption from passing certain Regents exams as a graduation requirement in exchange for completing sequences of science, technical or occupational courses under a plan discussed Monday in Albany.

Graduating students, under current state rules, must pass Regents exams in five academic subjects. The "alternative pathways" proposal under discussion by the state Board of Regents would exempt qualified students from one of those exams -- in United States history, world history or science -- while still requiring passing scores on Regents exams in English and math.

The Regents, who set education policy, took up an alternative diploma plan in 2012 that would have allowed exemption from the world history exam.

That plan did not pass, in part because of fierce opposition from social studies teachers on the Island, who contended that teenagers need broad knowledge of world events to function as citizens.

That opposition continues, and some members of the Regents expressed doubt Monday that the state's elected leaders would allow the United States history exam to be dropped as a requirement.

Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said, however, that she expects some version of "alternate pathways" to pass next month.

State education officials who report to the Regents contended that allowing more flexibility in graduation requirements could serve as incentives to students who prefer practical, hands-on training in subjects ranging from culinary arts to computer graphics.

"Being ready to be an adult is about more than academics. It's also about technical skills," said Charles Szuberla, an assistant state education commissioner.

"Too many students are becoming disengaged. Too many students are not graduating."

Graduation rates for the class of 2013, the most recent available, were 74.9 percent statewide and 88.3 percent on the Island, in both cases an increase over the year before.

Opinion on the Island was mixed.

"It's very simple -- there are some students who just have no interest in academics," said Stephen Witt of Woodmere, a longtime trustee of the Nassau Board of Cooperative Educational Services, which provides extensive training in occupational and technical fields.

Witt and other BOCES leaders have supported the alternative diploma approach.

The Long Island Council for the Social Studies, representing teachers and administrators in that field, has opposed the concept.

"Every time something is too hard for students, they eliminate it," said Gloria Sesso, the council's co-president. "Are you saying a student should graduate without passing an exam that testifies to their knowledge of American history and citizenship, without knowledge of the world?"

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