After 4 years of rigorous research, analysis, and deliberation, on November 13 New York’s 69-member Blue Ribbon Commission on Graduation Requirements unveiled its recommendations outlining what it means to obtain a diploma in New York State and what that diploma should signify to ensure educational excellence and equity for all students. The recommendations will guide the state as it undertakes the decision-making, regulatory, financial, and planning steps necessary to modernize the requirements for earning a high school diploma.

“The Commission’s recommendations culminate from a robust stakeholder input process and extensive review of relevant research,” New York State Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa said. “The recommendations will help us create a more inclusive learning environment while maintaining rigor and enhancing critical thinking skills, putting all students on a trajectory for success ensuring they’re prepared for college, career, and civic readiness in the 21st Century and beyond.”

Board of Regents Chancellor Lester W. Young, Jr. stressed the importance of getting the graduation measures correct. “We started this work pre pandemic and now we are here. The challenge of public education is how do we ensure all young people have their right to a quality education. The work of the Blue Ribbon Commission was designed to do just that…[w]hat you will hear today is designed to impact generations.”

At the board meeting where the recommendations were presented, Angelique Johnson-Dingle, Deputy Commissioner of P–12 Instructional Support, noted, “We must move beyond the industrial education model to ensure that all New York state students are provided with the opportunity to learn and demonstrate their skills and knowledge in ways that best match their individual strengths and talents.”

Since 2022, Graduation Measures Commission members have worked to identify those high-level skills, knowledge areas, and competencies that holistically reflect successful outcomes of P–12 education in the modern world. Among the highlights of their recommendations, now being considering by the Board, are the following:

Ensure that students are learning meaningful life-ready skills critical for the highly technical and ever-evolving diverse and modern world. Among them, the Commission has specifically identified civic responsibility or ethics, cultural competence, financial literacy, fine and performing arts, STEM, and real-world writing skills—all aimed at setting up generations of New Yorkers from all walks of life to be successful.

Build out rigorous assessment options to the Regents exam to ensure the state is accurately measuring the knowledge and skills of diverse learners. The Commission recommended continuing the long-valued Regents exam, calling for the standardized test requirement to be reduced or modified, and calling for the development of alternative “performance-based” assessments. The goal is that children may be able to alternatively demonstrate mastery more deeply and over a far longer period of time through platforms like capstone projects, presentations, oral essays, or research papers.

“There was almost unanimity in seeking multiple pathways towards achieving the diploma with comments centered on the needs for variety in assessments,” said Johnson-Dingle, who supported the Commission in its work.

The Commission emphasized the need for the state to develop rubrics—with significant weigh-in from teachers—to ensure rigor, while allowing students to demonstrate content knowledge in ways that best suit their individual strengths and talents.

“The idea that one type of assessment is going to work for everyone is really what we are trying to get away from,” noted Chancellor Young at the board meeting where the recommendations were presented. “Parents know it instinctively. Not all students demonstrate their brilliance in the same way or at the same time.”

Provide access to career and technical education so that all students have the opportunity to develop workforce experience, including internships and work-based learning opportunities. Currently, these options are only available to some.

Require all New York State teacher preparation programs and professional development plans to provide education practices and pedagogy that resonate culturally so that students of all backgrounds receive more curricular, instructional, and assessment opportunities to showcase their knowledge in the classroom.

“These proposed recommendations aim to create a flexible and inclusive framework accommodating diverse learning styles and ensuring equity for all students in New York State,” said Johnson-Dingle. She described how research and feedback were compiled through regional meetings, Thought Exchange questions, parent and student advisory meetings, literature and policy reviews, and monthly Commission meetings, declaring that the set of recommendations “has the potential to change the lives of millions of students.”

In arriving at the recommendations, the Commission relied on two publicly available, seminal reports prepared by the Region 2 Comprehensive Center:

“R2CC’s support was integral to ensuring that we had deep access to the findings of a literature review, a state and international policy scan, and a summary of stakeholder feedback,” said Johnson-Dingle. “We really had incredible research partners.”

“It has been an honor,” said Sarah Barzee, director of the Region 2 Comprehensive Center, “for our team to play a role in helping New York root this substantial process and many critically important considerations in research and evidence.”

The Commission solicited input from students along with parents, educators, administrators, school support staff, representatives of higher education, and the business community.

The final report includes 12 recommendations.

“There were a lot of tough conversations that they debated with respect. Keeping the focus on children helped us to get to these outcomes,” Johnson-Dingle said.

By fall of 2024, NYSED will present an implementation roadmap and timeline for rolling-out proposed changes and related actions. Over the next several years, the Education Department will engage with interest holder groups, school leaders, teachers, students, and parents to craft recommended changes to the current system. The changes may include programmatic, assessment, credit, and diploma requirement modifications.

Learn more about the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission.

The Region 2 Comprehensive Center works with state education agencies and their regional and local constituents in Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island to improve outcomes for all children and better serve communities through capacity-building technical assistance.

The content of this post were developed by the Region 2 Comprehensive Center. The Region 2 Comprehensive Center is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. However, the contents of this post do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.