No US History High School Exam? Yes in New York, With a Caveat

October 20, 2014 8:02 pm Last Updated: October 20, 2014 8:05 pm

NEW YORK—Young gentlemen like Stephen Tripodi sometimes have to really apply themselves. Steve says his “early college” Career and Technical high school squeezes the usual four years of high school into six semesters.

“We’re doing four semesters of Global History in one year,” Tripodi said. “Everything is fast.”

Despite the time pressure, he was able to pass his Global History graduation exam. But almost a third of his peers across the state could not. 

The State Education Department and its Board of Regents try to make it easier for students like Tripodi.

To graduate public high school in New York, students need to accumulate 22 credits for completed courses and score at least a 65 on five Regents Exams—Math, English, Science, Global History, and U.S. History.

Starting this spring, high schoolers may be able to replace either of the history exams with one of a multitude of alternatives, the department’s commissioner, John B. King, Jr., and the regents’ chancellor, Merryl Tisch, announced Monday.

Among the alternatives are additional exams in math or science, but also an art exam or professional certification exams in fields like carpentry, electronics, agriculture, and hospitality.

“Over the last five years, as we have been talking about college and career readiness and what it takes to get there, one of the things that’s become very clear is that we need to have multiple pathways to get to that goal,” King said at Monday’s press conference on the matter.

Two out of five students in the city don’t finish high school within four years. The regents argued some students may try harder if they take an exam in a field of interest to work towards.

Simultaneously, the Global History exam has the worst passing rate among the mandatory exams–71 percent. It covers world geography and 5,000 years of history taught over two years. 

It may help some students to graduate, if they only need to pass the courses, but not the exam.

The change may also encourage schools to reintroduce more science, art, and vocational courses, many of which were cut during the financial crisis.

If counted towards graduation requirements, the courses may boost graduation and college acceptance rates, so schools may give them higher priority in their budgets, Tisch said.

Meant for Failing Schools

In the coming weeks, the city is required to present plans to the state for turning around some 250 failing schools. 

Tisch would like to see the city taking advantage of the change in graduation requirements, especially the nudge towards vocational, now called “career and technical” (CTE), courses. 

“We would hope to see, as part of the plans the city puts forward, a commitment to wide expansion of CTE opportunities in our high-need school areas and high-need school districts,” she said.

The city’s Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña stated the city is committed to expanding CTE, including internships and industry credentials. “[T]hese new graduation standards reflect that goal,” she said in an email statement.

Almost Done Deal

Two years ago, the regents already tried to allow a choice between the Global History exam and a CTE exam, but the plan fell through with an outcry from social sciences teachers, who felt their subject was being abandoned. But at that time the majority of the regents weren’t in favor of the change to begin with.

This time the change still has to go through a public comment period, but since it was already agreed upon by the regents, it is likely to pass their final vote in January.