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Special ed student diplomas subject of Monday Regents vote

Many teenage students who struggle with disabilities could find it easier to earn high-school diplomas, under proposed rules changes due for a vote Monday by the state’s Board of Regents.

The proposal put forward by Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia would reduce from four to two the number of state Regents exams on which such students need to earn “low pass” scores in order to graduate with local diplomas. If Regents approve, the change could apply to students graduating this month.

Tightened state graduation requirements over the past three decades have narrowed opportunities for special-education students, according to parent groups and other advocates who are especially vocal on Long Island.

In 2012, the Regents decided to eliminate so-called IEP diplomas, which had been provided to many such students in the past. IEP stands for Individualized Education Program — the unique special classwork and other services mapped out for those with disabilities.

The Regents, as a substitute, approved new Skills and Achievement Commencement Credentials, which were meant to provide a more accurate description of what students had actually achieved in school. However, parents and other critics of this approach complained the new credentials were not being recognized by colleges and employers.

“College, employment and the Army are the options for kids when they get out of high school,” said Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents the Island on the Regents panel. “Those options aren’t going to be available unless you have a diploma.”

Currently, most students statewide must pass at least four Regents exams with scores of 65 or better in order to graduate with Regents diplomas. Special-education students are an exception, and may earn so-called local diplomas from their districts under various options.

Commissioner Elia’s latest proposal would add to those options, by giving local school superintendents more flexibility in deciding which students qualify for local diplomas.

Under the plan, special-education students could qualify if they passed all required coursework, along with Regents exams in both English and algebra. Minimum scores for passage would be either 55, or 52 on appeal. Superintendents would decide if such students met local grading policies.

State education officials do not have precise figures for the number of teens who might benefit from the proposed new graduation option. In 2015, more than 15,800 students statewide, including 1,400 on the Island, completed four years of high school without receiving diplomas.

Some experts estimated, however, that as few as 1,300 students statewide might receive local diplomas under the latest proposed rules change.

Some parent representatives contacted over the weekend described Elia’s proposal as a step in the right direction, but added that students should be allowed to graduate without passing any Regents exams, which are unique to New York State.

“These guys are not going to do well on Regents,” said Roy Probeyahn of Manorville, a longtime advocate for special-education students.

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