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Published in Print: August 10, 2005, as N.Y. ‘Portfolio Schools’ Get Regents Reprieve

N.Y. ‘Portfolio Schools’ Get Regents Reprieve

Sites plan to use time to craft alternative to statewide exams.

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Thirty-nine New York state high schools have won a reprieve from a state requirement that students pass the Regents exams to earn a diploma.

The extension of an existing waiver will allow those schools an extra five years to prepare their students to pass the statewide tests in five subjects, as students in the rest of the state’s high schools already have to do.

Advocates of the high schools receiving the waivers—most of which are in New York City—say the interim period will give them the chance to gather evidence that their approach of using portfolios of student work as the measure for graduation is as good as the subject exams that the state now requires students to pass. They hope eventually to win a permanent waiver for their schools or even spur the state to create an alternative assessment that could be used statewide, one education activist said.

“We’re hoping to push the state to adopt an alternative assessment,” said Jane Hirschmann, a member of a New York City-based anti-testing group called Time Out from Testing and the mother of three children who graduated from New York City schools that operate under the waiver. “We’re definitely concerned about the rest of the state.”

But a member of the state board of regents who helped craft the state waiver said that its purpose is to give schools time to get ready for using the statewide exams as the path to a diploma.

If schools operating under the waiver tried to win approval for alternative assessments, he said, they would have to produce a trove of data to prove students are completing work that is as rigorous as what is required under the Regents exams.

“We obviously have to have standards that are rigorous, uniform, and replicable,” said the board member, James R. Tallon Jr. The regents unanimously approved the waiver extension last month.

Five-Year Fix

In 1996, the state of New York started phasing in its Regents exams as a requirement to earn a standard diploma. Previously, only students choosing to pursue a more prestigious diploma took the tests. Members of the class of 2003 needed to score at least a 55 on a 100-point scale on tests in English, mathematics, world history, American history, and at least one science subject to receive their diplomas.

This past June, the state board voted to phase in a passing score of 65. The class of 2009 will need to score at that level or better in at least two subjects, and each succeeding class will need to pass an additional exam with a 65 or higher, with the new policy to be in place for the class of 2012.

The 39 alternative high schools had not been required to fully implement the current graduation policy, however. Under a 1995 waiver from the board of regents, students in those schools have only been required to pass the English exam to earn diplomas.

Under the new waiver, current students in the alternative schools, or portfolio schools, continue to pass the English exam with a score of 55 or higher.

Under the waiver, the graduating class of 2009, which enters high school this fall, must score 65 or higher on the English test. The next two classes must pass two tests—in English and one other subject of their schools’ choice. The students must score at least 65 on both tests. The class of 2012 will be required to pass exams for English and two other subjects. The class of 2013 will need to meet the statewide requirement of passing five subject tests, all with a score of at least 65.

Political Pressure

Ms. Hirschmann said the board of regents’ action was a victory for the portfolio schools. The board had been inclined to let the existing waiver expire, but the state Senate put pressure on the regents to extend it.

Earlier this year, the Senate passed a bill that would have extended the group’s waiver for four years and required the regents to devise an alternative set of portfolio-based assessments that could have been used statewide. Although the Assembly, the legislature’s lower house, did not pass a companion bill, leaders of that body lobbied the regents to address the concerns of the portfolio schools without legislation, Ms. Hirschmann said.

Mr. Tallon of the state board acknowledged that the legislative activity had prompted the waiver extension. The Senate bill’s requirement for an alternative, portfolio-based assessment “was not a step forward,” he said.

Ms. Hirschmann said research shows that graduates of portfolio schools succeed in college.

“We are proving that our kids not only go to college and stay in college, but do well in college,” she said.

Vol. 24, Issue 44, Pages 22,26

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