Regents Must Refine Standards for Vocational Students & New Immigrants

The educational establishment, the private sector, many politicians and almost all the editorial pages have confused high standards (good) with high-stakes testing (often bad), which will have terrible consequences for many of our high school seniors, especially for recent immigrants and those pursuing vocational careers.

The  New York Board of Regents was urged to revisit the ‘one-size-fits-all’ high-stakes-testing-in-five-subjects rule for English Language Learners and students in vocational programs, and I am fully supportive of two key and related bills:

English Language Learners (ELL)

One bill, sponsored by one of the Assemblymen and already approved by the Education Committee, would waive the requirement of passing the English language arts Regents examination for ELLs in order for them to be awarded their high school diploma. This legislation would create a structure for ELLs who fulfill all other requirements for a local high school diploma and who, in addition, pass a Regents competency exam in their native language plus an English proficiency exam, to get their diplomas and move on.

Because it takes several years for recent immigrants, already in high school and approaching graduation, to develop full proficiency in English, this is a needed and very reasonable solution. A recent immigrant could be gifted in math, science, history or other subjects, but because he or she is not fluent enough in English, he or she will not be permitted to graduate high school and go to college. This is a waste of potential. How many of us, even if ‘A’ students, could have moved, at age 16, to China or Pakistan and passed an intensive exam in those languages just a short time later?

Vocational High Schools

A second bill, sponsored by another Assemblyman, would create a fair and balanced academic and technical approach for vocational high school students, who under current regulations are required to attain both a high level of academic achievement and degree requirements evidencing mastery of their trade. The bill accepts the need for students to pass Regents-level examinations in the core subjects of English and mathematics while allowing them to meet graduation eligibility requirements by fulfilling the prerequisites of their career education program.

It is both ironic and absurd to require the same academic credentials of students pursuing vocational careers, who do not necessarily plan to attend college, on top of satisfying degree requirements in their trade. Yes, students in vocational careers should take and pass the English and math Regents exams, but the Regents have actually rendered the standards for vocational high schools higher than those for Bronx Science! New York’s vocational schools are an economic life-support for our industries and can lead to very lucrative careers. Requiring tests for the tests’ sake is foolish and will help destroy these schools and drive thousands of students to drop out.

The Regents and the Commissioner have overreached in their laudable yet overzealous implementation of test-based standards, and these two bills are an effort to bring reason and reality into the system so as to not senselessly compromise educational futures and careers of capable young men and women.