In July 2019, NYS Chancellor Betty A. Rosa and the Board of Regents announced they would create a blue ribbon commission to review the state’s high school graduation measures. Part of the commission’s work is to have regional workgroups hold meetings across the state to gather feedback from many partners including parents, educators, administrators, school support staff, representatives of higher education, and the business community.
I had the opportunity to attend one of these work group meetings as a special education advocate and parent for our 10th judicial district hosted by Regent Roger Tilles on March 4. For this three-hour forum, we were broken into mixed groups where I got to meet teachers, principals, and board members, from different school districts in Suffolk County. Some were familiar faces and friends. Our group also consisted of current students at Stony Brook University who shared their insights and experiences from their high school graduation requirements and experiences.
The issue of the NYS diploma has gotten the Board of Regents’ long-overdue attention as they are realizing there are too many students who are not graduating with a regents or advanced regents diploma while N.Y. ranks #38 in graduation rates. The questions we were presented to answer centered around what does it take for our students to be prepared for the 21st century to be lifelong learners and contributors to society?
One of the recurring themes I heard throughout the evening was the need to guide students on the appropriate career track, stop pushing the college path for every student and to put more of an emphasis on vocational schools and training.
Another concern raised was that students need to learn better social, communication, and writing skills that are needed not only for college but also in the workforce. There were some representatives from Suffolk Community College and Stony Brook who stated that there needs to be a better partnership between the high schools and colleges to ensure students are better prepared for the demands and the higher level math and writing requirements expected at college level. Life skills such as financial literacy, budgeting, saving, balancing a bank account were some of the other areas that were raised that students are not learning before entering the work force or college.
The largest concerns centered around the issue of many students who are taking the regents multiple times and are not able to pass despite the state having adjusted the cut scores multiple years in a row. The largest group of students that are being left behind and are struggling to meet the graduation standards are students with disabilities and English language learners. There was much discussion centered around bringing back the general diploma option which does not require taking regents examinations as well as using other measures for students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.
Some of the other measures discussed were: portfolios, projects, coursework, experiential learning, assessments, internships, community service. I am proud to be part of this important forum and to be able to speak as an advocate, having my thoughts and voice transmitted back to the state on behalf of all of our students in the school district.
We have more work to do to ensure our students are graduating from high school with the relevant skills to be successful in their careers and contributing members of society. It is imperative that we improve our graduation rates locally and ensure our students will be prepared to compete and succeed in the 21st century and beyond.
Yolanda Thompson is a special education advocate. She lives in Baiting Hollow.
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