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Regents Put On Hold Updated Grad Requirements

The state Board of Regents is going to take longer than originally planned to change the state’s graduation criteria.

During its most recent meeting, Dr. Kimberly Young Wilkins, deputy commissioner of P12 instructional support, updated the board on the Department of Education’s work on graduation requirements since the Regents’ last meeting in August.

In August, the Board of Regents discussed a Blue Ribbon Commission to reconsider current diploma requirements, ensure all students have access to multiple graduation measures and ensure a transition plan timeline that allows time to prepare for and implement any changes.

Some Regents were critical of what they felt was a compressed timeframe to gather information and then develop and implement the new requirements. Wilkins said the new timeline will take roughly a year longer than originally discussed. The original timeline began this month and ended in the fall of 2020. The revised timeline begins in November with regional meetings that will take place through January. The Blue Ribbon Commission will begin meeting in February, with sub-groups meeting from May through November 2020.

Recommendations from those groups will be sent to the commission in the winter of 2021, a report drafted by the Blue Ribbon Commission by the summer of 2021 and a plan adopted by the fall of 2021.

“I think you’ll be very glad to see this slide,” Wilkins said. “It is an updated draft timeline. Again, it was a little ambitious last time so we actually slowed our roll and looked at something a little more reasonable. … You’re looking at approximately a two-year cycle here, which will give us time to roll this out.”

The next step in the creation of new graduation requirements will be regional workshops in each judicial district around the state in partnership with regional BOCES superintendents to gather and provide community input upon which the blue ribbon commission will form its recommendations. Each workshop will include a member of the Board of Regents, a BOCES district superintendent, student voices, advocacy groups, research agencies, workforce representatives and others identified by local officials. A state Education Department official will also be on hand.

Several of the Regents members still had concerns about the composition of the regional workgroups. T. Andrew Brown, a Rochester resident and Regents vice chairman, said he didn’t want to have a repeat of a public forum he attended several years ago in Albany that was devoid of people of color.

“I want to make sure that does not happen again,” Brown said. “This is too important a task and the Blue Ribbon Commission is going to be tasked with too big an issue. If we’re not careful, are we going to be left with a commission made up of people who frankly have very little to no people of color. … You have at the end, ‘and others,’ I don’t know what that means, but that to me is an opportunity for us to ensure that the commission is made up of a fully diverse population including many poeple of color who can speak for the variety of interests and concerns of our kids, our parents and our citizens of this state.”

Also on the subject of representation, Regent Susan Mittler of Ithaca said she wants to make sure there is ideological representation in the regional forums. Mittler’s district includes rural, conservative areas and more liberal cities like Ithaca and Corning. She said having many sides of the political spectrum represented could help the Regents explain the process being undertaken and prevent education from becoming politicized as the adoption of the Common Core State Standards was.

“I also want to get some of the far left, far right people coming because this is not a poltiical issue,” she said. “This is an education issue. I need to have them there so they can understand the financial impact and make education stronger. I’m not quite sure how to go about it, but I think we need to make an effort to be sure that we have both conservatives and the liberals and the independents having a voice early so that they can’t say we never asked. I think this includes those people who are from charter or religious schools so their voice is heard as we go.”

Also hearkening back to past information gathering sessions, Regent Kathleen Cashin of Brooklyn said the Regents must be careful not to give off the indication that the issues have been decided before public input is gathered. Cashin said that was a problem she encountered when the Board of Regents passed the Every School Succeeds Act, the successor to the Common Core State Standards.

“I remember when we did the ESSA workshops,” she said. “I don’t want it to be a repeat of ESSA. The teachers I was with in several meetings, the conferences I attended, felt the decisions were already made, that it was a done deal. They said that to me everywhere I went. We don’t want to have it mapped out when we know some of the non-public (schools) have been successful, we know the My Brother’s Keeper strategies have been successful. We’re still open to their suggestions and input. That’s very important to me.”

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