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State takes 2nd look at phasing in new H.S. graduation rules

Long Beach schools Superintendent David Weiss observes Jillian

Long Beach schools Superintendent David Weiss observes Jillian Fernandez's seventh-grade math class at the district's middle school on Monday, Nov. 7, 2016. Districts must soon decide whether students now enrolled in seventh grade will be signed up for Regents algebra classes in 2017-18. Credit: Steve Pfost

State school officials are rethinking plans to phase in new high school graduation requirements originally proposed six years ago as major elements of Albany’s drive for higher student achievement.

Much of the state’s review — which includes a scheduled Monday discussion in Albany of statewide diploma standards — focuses on the recent rollout of new Common Core Regents exams. Those assessments include a revamped algebra test that has produced higher failure rates affecting thousands of students on Long Island and tens of thousands statewide.

The algebra exam is among four assessments that most students currently must pass in order to earn diplomas.

Failure rates could rise further still, should the state proceed with plans, first outlined in 2010, to raise passing scores to 80 on the algebra exam and 75 on an English exam. The current passing score for all Regents exams is 65.

Only 34 percent of students in Nassau County, 28 percent in Suffolk and 23 percent statewide scored 80 or above on Common Core algebra tests administered in the 2014-15 school year, according to the latest available data.

Until recently, state education officials signaled that the new score requirements were likely to take effect beginning with seniors graduating in 2022. But leaders of the state Board of Regents, which sets educational policy, now conclude that the plan requires a second look.

“We have to revisit this,” said Betty Rosa, the Regents chancellor, who spoke to a Newsday reporter last week during a visit to the Roosevelt school district.

Rosa, a former Bronx school superintendent, opposed the move to higher passing scores early on, along with several other Regents on the 17-member panel. The board’s leadership changed in March after senior members who had supported higher scores retired under pressure from teachers and parents opposed to Common Core testing.

Regents are scheduled Monday to discuss a report from an advisory work group, covering graduation requirements, reporting of Regents exam scores and related topics. The 15-member group is chaired by Jack Bierwirth, a former Herricks schools superintendent and expert on testing issues.

Meanwhile, local school boards and superintendents are pressing the Regents to declare officially that passing scores on all Regents exams will be kept at 65. Without such assurances, local officials said, students and parents will be kept in suspense and school districts will be unable to properly plan for the future.

Last month, the New York State School Boards Association, representing nearly 5,000 board trustees statewide, adopted a resolution contending that any move toward higher passing scores in math and English would have a “disastrous” effect on students, including higher dropout rates.

Timing is critical, many local school administrators said. That’s because districts must soon decide whether students now enrolled in seventh grade will be signed up for Regents algebra classes in 2017-18.

Typically, ninth-graders take such classes. But increasing numbers of eighth-graders also are enrolling, under an accelerated program encouraged by the state.

School counselors and parents might be more reluctant to place eighth-graders in algebra classes if they thought those students would have to score 80 on Regents exams in order to earn diploma credit, experts said.

“That’s the immediate question,” said David Weiss, superintendent of Long Beach schools, who raised the issue with state education officials at a regional conference last month.

The idea of requiring 80 scores was first suggested by researchers at the City University of New York, acting as Regents consultants. Researchers looked at the high school records of more than 12,000 CUNY students and found that those earning scores of 80 to 85 on Regents algebra exams had a roughly 65 percent chance of earning a “C” or better in a college-level math course.

Regents accepted the researchers’ conclusions issued in July, 2010, while also adopting national Common Core academic standards the same month. Those academic and testing standards became part of a broader educational “reform” plan that also called for stricter job evaluations of teachers and increases in numbers of charter schools operating statewide.


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