Alternative Diplomas: New York State’s High Standards

The year 2001 ushered in a new era of standards for high school diplomas. Ending with the class of 2000, all graduates of New York State high school have to have their regents’ diploma. These new changes were made in the name of quality. The intended results were to improve the quality of New York diplomas. New York is one of the most demanding states in the United States to get a diploma in. Neighboring states like Vermont and Connecticut do not have content specific state tests. Another result of the higher expectation has been putting a group of borderline dropout students in danger of not receiving a high diploma at all. Alternative diplomas should be an option for students who would drop out if they could not meet the demands of a regents’ diploma.

It is a fact that before the year 2000, up to 15 percent of high school students in the best high schools were not getting regents’ diplomas (Maher, p.5, 2001). It cannot be guaranteed that the whole 15 percent will attain that regents’ diploma. The move by the board of regents will likely widen the gap between those who can achieve to those who cannot. Some of the various factors limiting a student from attaining a regents’ diploma are disabilities, poor instruction, poor schools, and a lower ability level. I believe a direct result of the new standard is a guaranteed increased drop out rate by students who will not or are not willing to achieve the new standards.

There are many types of alternative diplomas that could be offered instead of the regents’ diploma. Local diplomas were offered to students before 2000 who met all the schools standards. Certificates could be offered as an alternative that would be accredited as equal to a high school diploma. Another type of certificate or diploma that would be an acceptable alternative are technical or vocational degrees. In the name of higher standards, New York State has ignored inclusion by rejecting students who do not exhibit traditional academic characteristics.

If New York State does not alter their high standards then the rate of GED reciprocates will rise. The GED, a high school equivalency is a great way for non graduates to attain their high school diploma. I think if the number of GED holders goes up then New York State has failed it’s student who they have sworn to educate. The GED degree is attained outside the school system. They are most often an independent way of getting a degree. It’s almost as if New York State is saying they do not want low achieving students and will sacrifice them in the name of higher scores and standards. The state is washing their hands of students who deserve a diploma just as much as the rest of the students in country yet the board of regents are willing to overlook a possible increased drop out rate.

The fact is that most of the students in danger of not achieving the regents’ diploma traditionally do not have a voice. How many high school students who are struggling with terrible socio-economic situation, disabilities, or a lack of scholastic achievement are going to speak out against the higher standards? I think as educators we need to be advocates of all students. All students, not those who have an academic taint, but those who are more vocational in nature should have access to a diploma.

I think a outcome that will be played out in the years to come as a result of higher standards is a higher minority drop out rate. One of the most pressing issues in the state is the underachievement of inner city schools. Inner city schools have traditionally higher ethnic diversity than schools that have a more homogeneous population. I honestly believe that the higher standards were indented to make underachieving schools become more effective. The only problem is resources and funding. Did the board of regents provide huge grants to schools with high drop out rates or provide plans for getting more vocational minded students through the exams? Or did the board of regents just implement this new policy and expect that standards be their own motivation?

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