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Board of Regents considering new graduation pathway


CANTON - The state Board of Regents may be making it easier for future electricians and alternative energy engineers to get their high school diploma.

At the board’s April meeting, Kenneth Slentz, associate state education commissioner for district services, presented a proposal to allow career and technical as well as science, technology, engineering and math students to opt out of the Regents global studies examination for another nationally recognized test in their field of study.

“A lot of people don’t realize that the tests the career and tech students take are difficult tests,” said Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services Superintendent Jack J. Boak Jr. “This is one of those rare proposals that would speak directly to these students.”

He predicts that if the board passes the proposal, students who might not pass their global studies test may graduate with a specialized high school diploma and have an easier time finding jobs in the technical field. However, the option would be available only starting with the freshman class in 2013.

“While we are cautious and rightly anxious about the risk of ‘tracking’ our students into any one path at too early an age, the lessons that we can learn from those nations that are — or are beginning to — out-compete us are worthwhile,” according to the proposal in reference to research about student vocational education programs in Europe.

In addition to the new graduation pathways, the proposal recommends having more career and technical courses available to middle school students so they can explore their options at a younger age and enter high school with diploma credit.

The global studies exam was chosen as one the students can opt out of because federal law requires students to pass exams in English, mathematics and science. In addition, the state recognized U.S. history is important for citizenship.

“It makes sense,” said St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES Superintendent Thomas R. Burns. “If you look at the five Regents exams, social studies is the only one that takes two. I think it provides more balance and gives students more options.”

Students still will have to take and pass a global studies course as a graduation requirement.

Both BOCES superintendents were optimistic about the new pathways to graduation and believe it could provide motivation for more students to get their diploma and perhaps go to a post-secondary technical school.

“It’s something we’ve been hoping to see for some time. Students learn differently,” said Mr. Burns. “If students aren’t engaged, there’s a lot of research that supports that they might drop out or not graduate on time.”

Although Mr. Boak said the state graduation rate is 73 percent — and as low as 50 percent in urban areas — he disagrees that this is an effort to inflate the graduation rate artificially.

“They do very well in their hands-on training for the trade, but some of them are not the type of student that is very proficient at examinations,” he said. “A lot of kids are considering, ‘Maybe college isn’t right for me if I could make a pretty good living in the trades.’”

According to Mr. Slentz’s proposal, the Center on Education and the Workforce predicts 36 percent of employers will require a high school degree or less for employment by 2018. Approximately 30 percent will ask for some college experience or an associate degree and 33 percent will require a bachelor’s degree or better.

The proposal also expresses hope that students will go on to post-secondary training once they have their diploma to become better-skilled at their trade and more competitive in the job market. Mr. Burns agrees.

“Every student should definitely go to college or technical training,” he said. “I still think that, what we’re seeing in the north country, even if students have training in a vocational trade, they go through post-secondary training.”

During the Board of Regents meetings Monday and Tuesday, the board was to gather feedback from school districts and BOCES. The state Education Department will provide recommendations to the board for its June meeting.

“We’re very pleased about it,” said Mr. Burns. “We’ve been under this single diploma for over a decade.”

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