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New York’s diploma dilemma

New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, left,

New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, left, and State Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa talk before the start of a meeting with the state Board of Regents during a meeting at the State Education Department in Albany, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. Credit: Hans Pennink

The problem with rigorous standards for high school diplomas is that many students who’ve worked hard for four years can fall short. The problem with lax standards is that they can signal a level of achievement that has not been attained, or signal nothing at all.

It’s a quandary that continues to perplex New York.

A committee recommended to the Board of Regents on Nov. 14 that New York start fresh, creating a clear, simple, understandable system.

Among the biggest changes would be eliminating “local” diplomas, which set lower requirements than Regents diplomas, which traditionally have required minimum test scores of 65 on five separate Regents exams. Parents have complained that the local diplomas, which require a 55 on five Regents exams, don’t convince employers or military recruiters that students are true graduates ready to work.

That’s a legitimate concern, but the committee’s recommendations suggest a scary loosening of requirements for Regents diplomas: an appeals process ruled on locally, evaluation of a student’s “entire body of work” in place of Regents scores, and a new, potentially easier grade scale. These could help a lot of students, but also lead to inflated graduation rates, with district officials more concerned about numbers than standards.

Education officials say the proposed changes are still under discussion.

That’s good, because the state needs to get this right. The diploma system in New York should clearly indicate students’ various levels of accomplishment. It shouldn’t be manipulated to inflate those accomplishments.


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