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Panel developing arts-focused high school diploma aims to finish by end of 2015, official says

The panel charged with developing a new pathway for students to pursue an arts-focused high school degree could have a final recommendation for the Board of Regents by the end of 2015, an official said Sunday.

"We're anxious to move this along so it can be in place for graduation next year for seniors," said Roger Tilles, the regent representing Long Island and co-chairman of the Blue Ribbon Panel for the Arts.

The Board of Regents is expected to get an update on the panel's efforts at its monthly meeting in Albany, scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.

The 52-person arts panel is working on a pathway that would provide students with the ability to earn a diploma that focuses on dance, music, theater and the visual arts. Members must recommend curriculum options and assessments for art students that are as rigorous as Regents exams.

The effort comes as education experts across the country weigh the merits of offering high school degrees in areas like the Science, Technology, Education and Math program to set students up for careers after graduation.

The Board of Regents approved the new "4+1 Pathway" to graduation in January, a plan that will allow students to use an alternative graduation requirement in one of five areas: the arts, STEM, non-English languages, career and technical education, and the humanities.

The concept is an approach similar to those in parts of Europe and Asia. Education experts say it will engage students in their education by allowing them to focus on their true interests.

"I think it brings what was informal to a formal level of acceptance in New York State," said Gene Silverman, executive director for regional schools and instructional programs at the Nassau County BOCES. "High school students are capable and ready to choose an area of concentration . . . something in college they want to study."

Chuck Szuberla, acting deputy commissioner for P-12 education for the state Education Department, said he has seen students flourish under STEM and other programs available in some parts of the state.

"It's really exciting to see kids make that bridge from school learning to thinking, 'What am I going to do as an adult?' " Szuberla said. "And then [they] know they have options when they get out of school, and those options are connected to employment."

Under 4+1, students could graduate based on scores on four of the Regents exams, plus assessment scores in their focus area, instead of their social studies test score.

The challenge will be determining how to test or assess students in the arts.

In some cases a portfolio or written exam may be appropriate. Or in music and other arts, students may have to perform and demonstrate their knowledge, Tilles said.

"We want to try to accomplish it in ways that are easiest for the districts to meet the standards," Tilles said. "There are a lot of ways to do that and it doesn't have to cost a lot of money."

The panel's 20-person executive committee is expected to make a recommendation to the full panel in the fall, with a final recommendation to the Board of Regents by the end of this year.

All details may not be final in time for graduating seniors, but Tilles said he is hopeful for an "interim option" in the second half of 2015-2016 school year.

"We don't want to hold anyone up in a pathway to the arts," he said.


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