Board of Regents should take its time on this decision

The discussion over whether or not New York state should continue requiring its students to pass five Regents examinations before graduating from high school misses a larger point.

For too many students, the work they do from kindergarten through 12th grade isn’t preparing them for life after high school, regardless of whether they pass five Regents tests or use one of the state’s many alternate pathways to graduation. We know this is true from what we hear from the business community and from colleges.

Businesses have lamented for years the declining number of people entering the workforce with simple soft skills like the ability to show up on time, to show up consistently for more than a couple of weeks at a time, to pass a drug test and to deal appropriately with customers. Colleges, meanwhile, are spending more and more time teaching remedial skills because the students they’re admitting often times can’t handle college-level work. That means the state Board of Regents’ one-year timeline to come up with a plan to decide how to determine a student’s readiness to graduate from high school is achievable only because it predetermines that everything that happens before graduation is working properly. We know that isn’t true.

We also already know that a Regents diploma hasn’t been necessary to make a good life for oneself. Many people who graduated from high school before 1996 will tell you that taking a Regents Competency Test didn’t doom them to a life of poverty. In fact, they shuttled out of classes for which they had neither the skill nor the inclination to take, and took classes that prepared them for life outside of high school: accounting, homes and careers, career and technical education, shop classes and the like. For some students, higher-level sciences or math are just not as necessary as other classes.

Rather than try to shoehorn this process into a year and declare victory while actually achieving nothing, the Board of Regents should take its time and make sure that a high school diploma actually means a student has the skills to enter college or the job market and have a chance of succeeding. The Regents decision to focus on whether students need to take Regents tests or complete a capstone project is like a homebuilder focusing on the color of the living room drapes and choosing not to address an 8-foot-wide hole in the floor.


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