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MHEP Optimistic About Proposed Graduation Requirements

JUNE 11, 2024

Standardized testing offers only a limited view of a student’s mastery of a subject and has often been used as a barrier to independence rather than a bridge to the American dream.

The Mental Health Empowerment Project, Inc. (MHEP) expresses cautious optimism regarding the New York State Education Department’s recent proposal to eliminate the requirement for students to pass traditional Regents exams to graduate. This progressive proposal aligns with feedback the Regents have received over the years and addresses significant concerns for all young people, particularly students with disabilities, young English Language Learners (ELL), and other vulnerable school-aged populations.

State Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa announced that this bold vision is a direct result of collaborative efforts and thoughtful input from diverse stakeholders, including public school students and their families. The proposal reflects the recommendations from the New York State Blue Ribbon Commission on Graduation Measures, which aim to bring greater equity within the state’s education system.

In 2019, the Graduation Measures Initiative was launched to explore what a New York state diploma should signify to ensure educational excellence and equity for all students. In November 2023, the commission presented several recommendations to achieve these goals, which were discussed at Monday’s Board of Regents meeting.

The transformative actions proposed by the New York State Education Department (NYSED) include:

  1. Adopting the New York State Portrait of a Graduate: This initiative aims to create a shared understanding of the skills and knowledge that New York state public school graduates should have mastered. Students will need to demonstrate proficiency in areas such as critical thinking, problem-solving, literacy, cultural competence, social-emotional skills, effective communication, and global citizenship.
  2. Re-defining Credits: NYSED proposes shifting the focus from time-based units of study to proficiency-based credits. This approach allows students to demonstrate mastery through various methods, including work- or service-based learning, dual credit programs, traditional high school courses, approved Career and Technical Education programs, participation in the arts, and passing approved assessments, including Regents exams.
  3. Sunsetting Diploma Assessment Requirements: The proposal recommends decoupling specific assessment requirements from graduation requirements. While Regents exams will remain available as one measure of proficiency, passing these exams will no longer be mandatory for graduation. Students will be assessed through multiple measures at the local level and will still take specific state-level assessments required by federal law.
  4. Moving to One Diploma: The proposal suggests transitioning to a single diploma for all New York state public school graduates. This would eliminate the local diploma, and the “advanced designation” diploma would become a seal or endorsement. Districts would be authorized to add additional seals and endorsements as needed.

NYSED will conduct a series of Blue Ribbon Commission “Ambassador Forums” between July and October to gather public input on these proposed transformations. The implementation plan will be presented to the Board of Regents in November, detailing projected timelines, affected regulations, and other considerations. The Board of Regents must approve any changes to the state’s graduation requirements before they can take effect. Until then, existing graduation requirements remain in effect.

We want to be clear: advocating for this change does not mean advocating for lower standards. We aspire for New York schools and teachers to be among the most effective in the country, equipping students to succeed in college, work, and life, and awarding meaningful diplomas that embody the ideals of the Empire State. By proposing the removal of the Regents exam requirement, we move closer to fulfilling the promise of New York’s education system, creating opportunities for more young New Yorkers to thrive.

This proposal embraces a philosophy of learning that believes in the potential of every student, values individuality over conformity, and supports multiple high-quality pathways to high school completion. These pathways should be measurable, performance-based, and aligned with the Common Core standards.

Advocates now need to unite in support of this proposal, continuing to advocate for pathways to prosperity rather than pipelines to poverty. MHEP is cautiously optimistic about the Board of Regents’ bold, inclusive, and transformative approach to education reform, which holds promise for a brighter future for all New York students.