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Regents plan to create flexibility in exams meets an important need for New York students

It’s back to the future for the New York Board of Regents. Recognizing that its single-minded focus on traditional academics was limiting and harmful to a large segment of New York’s student population, it has proposed a change that would allow alternative assessments in such areas as information technology, accounting or culinary arts.

It’s a wise change, and one for which the Regents have spent the past three years preparing, working to ensure that the new assessment options were as rigorous as the state’s Regents exams. It’s a key point, one that ensures the state is not backing away from the high standards that all students must meet to compete in the 21st century.

The proposal, which won’t be finalized until January, would allow students in career-focused courses to take one of more than a dozen pre-approved assessments in subjects such as carpentry, advertising or hospitality management rather than one of two history Regents exams that are now required. The state is also planning to explore creative arts assessments that students could take instead of one of the history exams.

The fact is, and always has been, that not everyone will go to college. The world needs carpenters and cooks, but – also a fact – success in those professions also requires a sound education. Thus, the proposed changes, while allowing students to substitute a more relevant exam for one history exam, will still be tested on one of the two social studies exams now required – U.S. or global history.

“This today is an attempt to try to back-fill opportunities for students with different interests, with different opportunities, with different choice,” said Merryl H. Tisch, chancellor of the Board of Regents.

With this welcome change, the Regents are, in some cases, catching up to the schools. The Kenmore-Tonawanda School District, for example, has added four academies focusing on technology, pre-engineering and finance-related fields. Another program, awaiting state approval, focuses on creative arts.

The programs, combined with the imprimatur of a Regents diploma, mean graduates who opt against going to college will be “career ready,” said Superintendent Dawn Mirand.

The change proposed by the Regents will allow such students to be tested, to high standards, on subjects that are directly relevant to their career paths. That’s an important change.

The hope is that these exams could be available for some students this spring, but for that to happen, the governor and Legislature would have to provide adequate funding. They should be planning for that now.