By Sandi Rosenbaum, Educational Advocate, Littman Krooks LLP
Although special education students in New York can pass their Regents exams with lower scores than students without disabilities, they do not have the same ability to appeal if they fall short. One New York parent, whose son was one point away from passing a Regents test, is advocating for change.
Generally, students in New York who do not have disabilities must achieve a score of 65 or higher on five Regents exams in order to receive a diploma. However, such students can appeal up to two Regents exam scores as low as 62, provided they earn a passing course grade and demonstrate strong attendance. While a successful appeal does not change the Regents exam grade on the transcript, it does allow the school district to grant a diploma to students who have fallen short on the exam, but otherwise demonstrated mastery of the high school curriculum.
Students with disabilities benefit from the so-called “safety net” and must generally score 55 or higher to pass the Regents exams. On some exams, even a score as low as 45 may suffice if it is offset by another exam score of 65 or better, but this compensatory option does not apply to the Regents exams in English and Math. While the safety net provides meaningful relief to students with disabilities, those who approach, but do not achieve, a score of 55 on the English or Math Regents exams have no ability to appeal for a diploma as do students without disabilities who come within a similar margin of passing.
A Brooklyn resident and mother of an 18-year-old son with a learning disability, took action when her son was poised to come within one point of earning his diploma. He passed four Regents exams, earning scores as high as 79, but was unable to score higher than a 54 in algebra, even after taking the exam three times. She said that, as a high school diploma was essential for her son to be considered for many jobs that he would be capable of performing, she was determined that he would not be denied a diploma over one point on one exam at his anticipated graduation in June 2016.
New York officials responded to her concerns and said that the Board of Regents would vote on a rule in December to allow special education students to appeal for the right to a diploma if they achieve a score of at least 52. Officials said the change would not be a lowering of standards, but an inclusion of special needs students without diminishing their ability to achieve.
Practical Pointer: Students with disabilities may remain in school and continue to receive services until age 21 or until they earn a Regents or local diploma, whichever comes first. Parents must keep in mind that students may earn a Regents or local diploma and a Career Development and Occupational Services Credential, which attests to important work readiness skills and requires work experience. For many students with disabilities, graduating with a Regents or local diploma at 18 does not represent the best option and may deprive the student of the opportunity to develop needed work-readiness skills, as a school district’s mandate to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) ends when the diploma is earned. Thus, the decision to appeal must be considered carefully against the benefits the student may receive from potential additional year(s) of schooling while he or she pursues the score of 55.
It remains to be seen whether the opportunity for appeal will apply to both of the English and Math Regents exams simultaneously, or only for one or the other.
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