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Regents keeps competency tests for special-ed students

Special-education students Tuesday won a year's reprieve from a state requirement that they score 55 or better on Regents exams in order to graduate from high school.

Under a plan approved unanimously by the Board of Regents, students with disabilities who enter ninth grade by next fall can instead graduate by scoring 65 or better on easier Regents competency tests. Originally, such tests were to be phased out with this year's ninth-graders.

The Regents' new chairman, Merryl Tisch of Manhattan, says postponement will allow time to plan for more rigorous requirements in the future. But conservatives see such statements as contradictory.

In recent months, dozens of educators statewide urged retention of competency tests, on grounds they provide teens with a widely used academic "safety net."

Last year, for example, 13,013 teens with disabilities across the state took a competency test in Global Studies - in many cases, after failing a Regents exam in the same subject.

"It levels the playing field for a lot of students who work just as hard, if not harder, than others," said Nicole Weidenbaum, executive director of Nassau-Suffolk Services for Autism, based in Commack.

Others criticized postponement, noting that New York is engaged in a competition with other big states for $700 million in federal grants promoting academic reform.

"While New York continues to talk about high expectations for all students, its actions fail to show the same confidence for students with disabilities," said B. Jason Brooks, spokesman for the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability, an Albany-area advocacy group.

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