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On Board Online • November 20, 2017

By Cathy Woodruff 
Senior Writer

The Board of Regents has endorsed a plan to allow teens and young adults to keep any credits they earned for passing Regents exams in math, science, English language arts or social studies before they dropped out or turned 21, so they may later apply those credits toward a high school equivalency diploma.

The plan is scheduled to take effect in February unless there is a hitch in the formal approval process.

Students who don’t earn all 22 required coursework credits and pass four to eight required Regents exams (or certain approved alternatives) cannot receive a traditional high school diploma. And once they leave school without graduating, they lose any credits they had accumulated by passing the Regents exams.

This may discourage those who have dropped out from seeking a high school equivalency degree because they basically have to start from scratch, Kevin G. Smith, deputy education commissioner for adult and continuing education, told the Board of Regents in a recent presentation.

To gain an equivalency diploma, former high school students must pass a full battery of subject-area subtests that are part of the TASC (Test Assessing Secondary Completion), which replaced New York’s GED (General Educational Development) exam in 2014.

Enabling students to keep and apply Regents exam credit for subject areas they already mastered, instead of taking TASC subtests covering the same subjects, could help make the idea of earning a high school equivalency diploma less daunting and could inspire some struggling students to stay in school, Smith said.

“We are trying to incentivize students to persist and remain engaged in their secondary education,” Smith told the Regents.

Exactly how many former high school students would be able to benefit from the regulatory change isn’t known, but available records suggest that it could make a difference for tens of thousands of students.

The group could include older teens already approaching age 21, new English language speakers, students with disabilities, students dealing with drug or alcohol problems, and those with social-emotional or mental health issues. These are among those who most commonly have difficulty graduating on time and are at risk of dropping out, state education officials say.

If the rules regarding Regents exam credits change as planned, these students could be counseled to stay in school and focus on just a few subjects, rather than all subjects, state officials suggest.

SED records show that more than 15,800 students who entered ninth grade in 2011 or 2012 and passed one or more of the required Regents examinations dropped out before earning a diploma at the expected graduation time (in 2015 or 2016). More than 3,000 of the students who did not graduate had passed four Regents exams.

Another 20,658 students from those years passed no Regents exams before dropping out. Officials speculate that they are among those who might have been more likely to stay in school and work toward passing at least some Regents exams, if they had been assured of retaining those credits.

Currently, most New York students are working toward a high school equivalency diploma study for five TASC subtests: reading, writing, social studies, science and mathematics. Any candidate no longer enrolled in high school must pass all of those exams to earn the equivalency diploma, Smith noted.

The new proposal would turn a passing score on a Regents exam into a “portable credit” that could substitute for a corresponding TASC subtest. The English language arts Regents exam would substitute for passing the TASC subtests in both reading and writing.

Smith described the math Regents credit as the most potentially prized credit for an aspiring graduate to have in his or her pocket, if the new pathway is approved.

“The math is the one that stumps most folks,” he told the Regents. The greater the time gap between the high school coursework and the TASC exam, the more difficult it is to pass the test – and that seems to be particularly true for math, Smith said.

“The math (TASC exam) tends to be one of the areas that takes the longest to get ready for,” Dan White, district superintendent for the Monroe 1 BOCES region, told On Board. He said the need to invest sufficient study and preparation time becomes a larger obstacle for adult learners who also may be juggling responsibilities for work and parenthood. They also can face more challenges gaining transportation to classes and exams, he said.

If adult learners could keep the credit they earned for passing the algebra Regents while they were in ninth grade, they would have far more time to devote to the other courses and exams required for a TASC diploma, White said.

“Time is a significant issue for adult learners, and they have a number of issues that they face,” he said.

The regulatory amendments associated with the change now are out for public comment. The Regents are expected to consider permanently adopting the new regulations, which would take effect in February, at their January meeting.

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