Upgrading the NYS high school diploma

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Updated September 16, 2019 6:00 AM

It’s 2019 and the requirements for high school graduation are essentially the same as in the 1970s. That's why I applaud the Board of Regents for acknowledging the need to rethink what it takes to graduate from a high school in New York State. 

Some people wonder whether education officials are moving too fast, while others wonder whether the skills and content knowledge that students now study are still relevant. The world has changed since the '70s and we should consider what students need to be successful.

Some of the changes educators should consider include:

  • Ensuring that the content is relevant. The skills required for college, career and life readiness need to be modernized to be applicable. Industries nationwide identify collaboration, critical thinking, communicating, and creativity as essential skills.
  • Evaluating the assessments used. Reconsider the lack of variety of accepted assessments required to meet the standard for graduation. 
  • Assessing the relevance of the required coursework.  Think about preparation for life beyond high school. More widely implement Redefining Ready, an initiative of The National School Superintendents Association which is a research-based model that identifies college,  career, and life-ready skills that are perfectly aligned to post-high school readiness for all students. For instance, mastering complex writing and speaking skills and multiple forms of literacy (media and financial) and integrating science, technology, and engineering are a few of the skills necessary to succeed.

Should Regents exams be the only assessment option and standard for graduation? Schools across our state — rural, urban and suburban communities — have assessments students can access that should qualify them to graduate. The SAT and ACT standardized colleges admissions exams, college credit-bearing coursework, and workplace learning experiences are just some assessments in place to either supplement or supplant the Regents exams. 

We continue to require the same courses we have for decades, but the world of work has changed, and the options that best prepare students for that prospect are electives. In many cases, students never have an opportunity to focus on a desired area of interest. For instance, New York's required coursework for graduation does not assess mastery in computer skills, financial literacy, public speaking, entrepreneurship, leadership and civic engagement, publishing of original work, and/or opportunities for service learning through connections to the community. 

We are responsible for preparing students for the future they will experience, not the past. New York has rightfully been proud of its public education program. Our standards have always been high and the opportunities for students a model for the rest of the country, but we need to rethink education through the lens of the 4Cs: critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration.   

The debate over whether we are moving too fast needs to be answered from the perspective of our students. Education must be more relevant, personalized, and contemporary to make positive changes in student engagement, interest, involvement and participation. A coordinated, inclusive, meaningful conversation about the future of learning and college, career and life readiness needs to happen across New York State. A task force is planned, but action, not just discussion, needs to be the outcome.

If it’s a question of timing, I would ask, what are we waiting for?  Every year we graduate students who are capable and deserving of more. If these were your children, what would you want for them?

Shari. L. Camhi is superintendent of the Baldwin school district.

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