National News

State Makes Graduation Easier for Disabled Students

Posted December 11, 2017 9:36 p.m. EST

The New York State Board of Regents went further on Monday in its efforts to make it easier for students with disabilities to graduate from high school, essentially eliminating the requirement that they pass any Regents exams.

And, in a sign that the Regents may have anticipated criticism that they were lowering standards, the proposed policy change was not posted to the State Education Department’s website until shortly before the vote.

In 2016, the Regents loosened the graduation requirements for students with disabilities by allowing them to pass only two Regents exams, in English and math, rather than five, as long as the students sat for three other exams and, if they did not pass them, demonstrated proficiency in those subjects through coursework. For students with disabilities the score needed to pass is 55; for students without disabilities it is 65.

On Monday, the Regents went further, jettisoning the requirement that students with disabilities pass the English and math Regents exams, if the students instead earned a credential showing they had the skills for entry-level employment. Students would still have to take five Regents exams and, as was the case under the regulation passed in 2016, the district superintendent would have to review their coursework to determine if they showed proficiency in the subjects for which they did not pass the exam.

A student who graduates under these circumstances would not receive the more rigorous Regents diploma, but instead would get what is known as a local diploma, which is accepted by colleges, the military and employers. This past school year, 418 students benefited from the earlier change, raising the statewide graduation rate by 0.2 percent.

The new change will likely further boost graduation rates, including in New York City, where a fifth of students have disabilities.

The proposal was posted online only a few minutes before the Regents’ 1 p.m. meeting. Monica Disare, a reporter for Chalkbeat New York, drew attention to the late inclusion of the item on the Regents schedule on Twitter.

The Regents voted in favor of it unanimously.

Their action quickly drew criticism. Stephen Sigmund, the executive director of High Achievement New York, a coalition that advocates higher standards, said in a statement, “The Regents shouldn’t make significant policy changes with an 11th hour and 59th minute addition to the agenda.” Noting that the previous change to loosen requirements for students with disabilities was made in 2016, Sigmund continued, “Removing another graduation requirement, demonstrating a minimum score on ELA and Math Regents exams, so soon after the last change is the wrong direction.”

A spokeswoman for the State Education Department, Emily DeSantis, did not explain why the proposal was posted so late, but she said the regulation would undergo a 45-day public comment period before being finalized. She also said a group of about 20 parents had attended the Regents’ meeting and had applauded after the vote.

The chancellor of the Board of Regents, Betty A. Rosa, said in a statement, “This isn’t about lowering the bar for what a student must know to graduate. Rather, these students need multiple ways to demonstrate they know it. The Board’s action today provides them with that opportunity.”

In the past two years, the Regents have taken other steps to make it easier for students to graduate, including introducing the employment-readiness credential and letting more students appeal to their districts to graduate despite just missing a passing score on one or two Regents exams. This past school year, the state’s graduation rate hit a new high of 79.4 percent, but it was unclear how much of the improvement was because of the changing requirements.