College and Career Ready? Maybe neither

Last week, I wrote about how NY was moving to lower high school diploma expectations for students with disabilities. Since writing that post, the NY Board of Regents has voted in the law, effective immediately, which has created some confusion for principals.

I’ll admit I know little of the landscape of NY high school exit requirements, since I’ve spent my career at the elementary and middle school levels. What remains unclear to me is what a “local diploma” really means, and how it connects to a viable career, as some advocates for students with disabilities are saying (as reported in this Chalkbeat piece). I’m open to being further educated on this, if anyone out there wants to school me. But right now it seems to be a mechanism for diminished expectations for some students, while enabling adults to claim higher grad rates.

Chalkbeat reporters Alex Zimmerman and Annie Ma further report that “Todd Kaminsky, a state senator who pushed for the new graduation requirements, said the change isn’t about watering down standards, but paving the way for more appropriate, “project-based” measures for students who struggle to meet graduation requirements.”

It’s also unclear to me how reducing requirements for students with disabilities connects to “project-based” measures, as this is not an explicit component of the law itself, which you can view in an overview of on this document provided by NYSED. I’m all for performance-based assessment (which is maybe what Kaminsky meant to refer to—to my knowledge, project-based learning is a pedagogical strategy, not a form of assessment), but utilizing PBA does not require lowering expectations. If these supplanted the traditional Regents exams, I’d be all for it. But I still wouldn’t stand by reducing expectations for students with disabilities.

On Twitter, The74’s Matt Barnum challenged my thinking on high school diploma requirements:

His post provides an overview of research which suggests that stringent high school diploma requirements may have little of the expected benefits (increased academic achievement), while it can have many unintended downsides, such as an increase in drop-out and incarceration rates.

I find this research compelling and a fit rebuttal to the imposition of high standards without compensatory attention paid to providing alternative options.

But I still don’t think lowering expectations for an academic diploma for some, or any, students is the answer. A high school diploma should signify that a student is prepared to enter college.

Not all students are prepared to enter college, whether due to ability or interest. However, all students could be better equipped to begin a career.

The greatest underreported story of last year, in my opinion, is that dramatically greater numbers of students are now failing the GED. This is far more problematic than students failing to obtain a HS diploma.

Couple this with the general dearth of well designed and funded vocational programs and opportunities in the US.

Over in Kentucky, however, there is a more sane and equitable approach that does not require diminishing expectations, as Emmanuel Felton reports. In KY, they are building two tracks between what it might mean to be “college” and/or “career” ready, and this makes a lot of sense to me. Instead of devaluing a high school diploma just to allow states to claim higher graduation rates, we should be investing in alternative pathways to a career that are both viable and rigorous.

 

School Contexts and IEPs

By Codyshafer 2011 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Viewing a school as an ecosystem entails acknowledging its unique context. When it comes to providing special education services for students with disabilities, we tend to act as if schools are akin to controlled clinical settings where scientific interventions can be applied with fidelity. We pretend, in other words, that the capacity and context of a school is relatively unimportant in relation to the needs of a student as outlined by psychological testing.

Yet the reality of a school is messy and complex—just like the reality of a child’s individual and unique mind—and very far from clinical. What this entails is that schools have to find ways to flexibly problem solve in order to more effectively and systematically meet the needs of its students both within and without the classroom.

In my most recent post on Chalkbeat NY, I make the case that a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) must have a connection to the reality of what a school can and will be able to provide, just as what a school provides must connect to the reality of what that student actually needs.

In other words, in order for a student’s plan to have a tangible impact, it must be part of a process of continuous improvement that can be consistently delivered. In the absence of any such connection to the capacity of the school’s teachers and service providers, that student is much less likely to have any support, and the IEP will remain mere words on paper.