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STANDARDS AND FLEXIBILITY

Since their inception, this page has supported the Regents plan to increase standards for high school graduation. We still do. It is important that New York students are able to compete for top-level 21st century jobs, and that means having a sound education.

However, as Regents standards become entrenched, it is becoming clear that some students are getting lost in the shuffle. They are dropping out and giving up.

As detailed recently by News reporter Peter Simon, superintendents from suburban school districts are becoming increasingly concerned about the tougher state standards and the ability of a portion of their student bodies to earn a Regents diploma. Many students who don't pass the exams are in danger of dropping out of school.

It's too early in the process to give up on the higher standards. Districts need time to show they can bring current students up to speed while building a foundation for younger pupils that will enable the vast majority of them to meet the new standards.

That said, should schools find that a significant portion of seniors fail to meet the standards, and thus are disqualified from earning a high school diploma, state education officials should begin thinking about a Plan B. Not every high school senior will be going to college. To send them into the world without a high school diploma exacts a penalty far too severe.

For those students who choose not to continue on to college, there may be a need to offer them a secondary diploma that does not require passing state exams in math, English, global studies, American history and science. Districts may need to offer viable choices to those students other than a Regents diploma or no diploma at all.

Moreover, districts may not have the resources to offer the help that students were promised. At one point, decision-makers thought there would be money to provide extra help and tutoring. School districts are doing their best, but the money has dried up as the economy has faltered.

The New York State School Boards Association delegate assembly recently passed a resolution seeking legislation that would give boards of education the option to award a local high school diploma. Those districts would have to provide alternative courses and multiple assessments that respond more adequately and meaningfully to students' individual abilities, talents, interests and educational and vocational goals.

State Education Commissioner Richard Mills said he has no intention of driving this bus -- higher standards -- off a cliff. We're not asking him to stop the bus, but it would be nice if he gave some indication that he knows where the brake is.

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