The Honorable the Members of the Board of Regents


James A. Kadamus




Review of Other States' Approaches to Using State Assessments to Meet Graduation Requirements


February 27, 2004




Inform Regents Policy Implementation


Goals 1 and 2






This report is the first in a series on broad policy topics related to the State assessment system to be discussed by the Committee.  We also plan to publish a series of papers on other assessment subjects that will serve to increase the understanding of the Regents, the field, the public and the media on the foundations of the State assessment system.


Other states have also implemented reforms to ensure students achieve higher learning standards.  The attached report provides information on what has been put in place by some states as additional ways students could meet graduation requirements besides passing state exit exams.  Particular attention was given to students who passed required coursework, but were not successful in passing state graduation tests based on that coursework.  The information on other states was gathered from presentations at a multi-state meeting on the topic, a survey conducted by the Department's Fiscal Analysis and Research Unit and web sites.






Review of Other States' Approaches to Using State Assessments to Meet Graduation Requirements


            The following is a summary of additional approaches some states have put in place for students who have passed required coursework but have failed to pass the required assessments.




Indiana has a waiver process for the state assessments in English language arts and math that must be passed to qualify for graduation.  Ninety-six percent of all Indiana students who earn a diploma pass the state assessments.  Those who do not pass in tenth grade must retake the tests until they are seniors.  They can then initiate a waiver process that is conducted at the school building level under state guidelines.  Students have two options.  Option 1 is to obtain a C average in every one of the “Core 40” courses required for college admission in the Indiana State University system.  About one-half of one percent of students use this process.  Option 2 is to do the following: take the state test in the subject area failed at least once per year; complete remedial instruction offered in each subject failed; have a C cumulative average in high school; have 95 percent attendance except for excused absences; and receive a written recommendation from their teacher.  The teacher recommendation must be backed up with evidence of classroom work or other tests that document achievement of the state learning standards.  This entire process happens at the building level with a final determination made within 30 days of graduation.  The principal makes the final judgment for graduation.  About 2,700 students use this option annually.  Data on the number of students using these waivers is published in the district school report card and the State Department of Education monitors these data and reviews any schools with excessive waivers.




            Massachusetts has an appeals process like Indiana’s waiver process, but it is conducted at the state level.  Similar to Indiana, nearly all seniors pass the MCAS test for graduation.  Students who want to use the appeals process must:  take the MCAS three times; take advantage of academic help offered; have a 95 percent attendance rate; and have a grade point average comparable to a cohort of six students who took similar courses and passed the MCAS.  To be eligible for the waiver, students must be within 4 points of the MCAS cut point of 220.  If there is no cohort of six similar students, students can submit a portfolio of work to be reviewed by a state committee.  Nearly all of the 350 students who used the portfolio option were special education students.  Twenty-seven hundred students used the cohort appeals option and 1,400 appeals were granted.  A state committee reviews appeals on a monthly basis.  However, Massachusetts State Department of Education officials have designed a spreadsheet for submitting data for the appeals process, so the committee’s review consists of checking the numbers and confirming the data.  Massachusetts’ officials said the reviews of individual cases are done in minutes.  They also found a very high correlation between test scores on MCAS and course grades.




Ohio has a system similar to Indiana’s.  It is called “alternative conditions” for eligibility for a diploma.  Again, the work is all done locally at the district or building level.  To be eligible, students must: score within 10 points of the cut score on any test failed; have a 97 percent attendance rate, excluding excused absences; have never been expelled from school; have a grade point average of at least 2.5 out of 4.0; complete all other high school curriculum requirements; take advantage of any intervention programs offered; and have a letter from each of his/her high school teachers in the subject area failed.  The Ohio Department of Education is charged with establishing rules to determine equivalent grade point averages among high schools in the state.  The Ohio test system in five subject areas will begin in September 2006.




            Mississippi allows an alternate route for graduation in the case of students who have failed exams twice, provided students can demonstrate they have mastered the content area subject matter.  A written "Appeal for a Substitute Evaluation Process" is submitted by a student, parent or district personnel and would include supporting evidence such as the student's grades; a letter from the teacher outlining the student's work habits, participation, homework, projects, and attendance; and a portfolio of school work and tests.  The appeal is first made at the district level and the district superintendent and the principal and/or chairperson of the department (or lead teacher) determine merit.  They will either deny the appeal or forward it to the state level.  If the appeal is denied at the local level, it can be submitted directly to the state level.  At the state level, the State Superintendent or his/her designee, the Bureau Director of Curriculum and Instruction or designee and the MDE Subject Area Content Specialist review the appeal and supporting evidence and decide whether to grant or deny the appeal.  If the appeal is granted, a State Appeals Substitute Evaluation Committee will review the student's supporting evidence within 15 days from the date the appeal was granted.  If the substitute evaluation determines that the student has demonstrated mastery of the curriculum, a passing score will be substituted for a failing score and the Mississippi Department of Education will bear the cost of the substitute evaluation.  A certified letter of the result goes in the student's permanent record.  If the results of the substitute evaluation determine the student has not demonstrated mastery, the student must continue to participate in statewide standardized testing.  The school district pays for evaluations that do not result in a change from fail to pass (but the district may have a policy that mandates that parents pay for the costs of an unsuccessful substitute evaluation).  For the 2003-04 school year, there were only two requests for review out of more than 125,000 exams administered.  Both were honored, but neither resulted in a change from fail to pass.





            Oregon has a fully developed juried assessment system as an alternative to its state assessments (reading, writing, math and science).  Students can graduate without passing the state assessments, but they receive a lesser diploma.  Students may request a juried assessment and provide a collection of evidence through a portfolio of classroom work.  The portfolio is evaluated against the state standards by a state-appointed panel of testing and content experts, teachers and businesspersons.  Since the state assessment is not required for graduation, only about 20 cases per year are reviewed.  This is because the Oregon State University system has a similar juried assessment system for admission to the state university system. About 2,000-3,000 students use this system for admission.




            In Georgia, students not passing all the required tests may be eligible for a local High School Certificate or a Special Education Diploma.  Students leaving with either of these credentials may sit as often as needed for the tests in order to graduate with a high school diploma.  Students on a career/technical preparatory track may receive the Secondary School Credential at the completion of the high school experience.  Students or their parent/guardian may file a waiver from the requirement to pass the exams with the local superintendent of schools.  The school district is responsible for packaging the waiver request for the State Board of Education.  The supporting documentation includes student transcripts, grades, attendance records, graduation test reports, plans of accommodation, IEP records where applicable, the number of times the student has attempted to pass, a description of the intervention services the school has provided and the school district's position with regard to the request.  Committees of the State Board of Education review the waiver request and make a decision on whether to grant a waiver based on the totality of the case factors.  Less than one percent of tests administered result in waiver requests.  No waiver requests have resulted in a reversal from failure to passing.




Maryland will test English, algebra/data analysis, government and biology starting with the class of 2009.  Maryland had considered one alternative approach in which:  students who pass all four tests receive a state-endorsed diploma; students who pass three of the four tests, take remedial courses, and retake the tests multiple times could receive an alternative local diploma; special education students who tried but did not pass at least three tests would receive an alternative local diploma; and severely disabled students would receive a certificate of completion.  Under a new proposal for which public comment is now being sought, students would be required to reach minimum scores on each of the four assessments, but not necessarily pass each assessment, and earn a combined score on all four tests that is in the passing range.  The minimum score is an acceptable score established by the Maryland Department of Education that is below the passing score for the high school assessments.  Students with severe disabilities may take the high school assessments but passing is not required.  Once they complete all IEP requirements, they will receive a Certificate of Program Completion that includes an Exit Document that cites the student's skills.  Maryland is also developing a series of on-line courses in each of the four subject areas that students will be able to access at no cost.



What has been put in place in New York to help students meet State assessment requirements?


            We have already put in place the following provisions to help students meet the required State assessments and graduation requirements:


·        students may take approved alternative tests to the Regents exams, e.g., SAT II, AP, IB;

·        the safety net for students with disabilities allows students who fail the Regents exam to take and pass the Regents Competency Test to earn a local diploma and has been extended through the 2009-2010 school year;

·        the low-pass option, at local discretion, allows students who score 55-64 on the required Regents exams to earn a local diploma and has been extended for two years through the 2004-2005 school year;

·        testing accommodations are provided for students with disabilities as well as English language learners;

·        required Regents exams in subjects other than English are administered in five other languages;

·        the New York State English as Second Language Achievement Test (NYSESLAT) administered in K-12 evaluates the English language proficiency of English language learners and is designed to ensure the success of students in exiting from bilingual/English as a second language programs to the general education English environment; and

·        component retesting is available in English and math for students who have taken these exams twice without earning a passing score of 65 and who have earned a score between 48 and 64 on at least one of the two exams.



What are the possible implications of other states' approaches for New York?


            To answer this question, it may be helpful to consider why and how the Board of Regents began to set standards and measure them through the Regents exams and other assessments.


Beginning in the late eighties, the public said that standards in many schools were too low.  Many students were tracked into low-level courses and received a poor education.  At graduation, they received a local diploma by passing Regents Competency Tests which set standards at an 8th grade level.


After long study and countless hours of discussion with educators and other citizens, the Regents set higher standards in the main subject areas – English, math, social studies, and science – and established a reliable, statewide way to measure those standards through the Regents exams.


            In the early nineties prior to this decision, the State Education Department, with the Regents approval, had experimented with a waiver system that allowed school districts to use locally-developed projects for up to 30 percent of the Regents exam grade, at the discretion of the individual teacher and school.  The types of projects varied widely, and so did the quality. The Department’s analysis showed that this waiver approach did not work to raise achievement.  There were three main problems:


·        The quality and level of the specific projects varied widely.  Some were very easy, others were more rigorous, and others were difficult.

·        The local grading, which lacked statewide scoring guides, was inconsistent, varying widely from classroom to classroom and district to district.

·        Some projects were first-time efforts produced entirely by the students, but others were revised frequently, with extensive help from teachers and others. Consequently, it was obvious that some work was not entirely the student’s own.


As a result, the Department concluded that the lack of suitable safeguards made this waiver system unworkable.


            In considering whether an alternative approach is workable, including the approaches (appeals process, waiver process, etc.) used in these states, we might be guided by the following questions:


1.      How can we be sure that the students who use the alternatives are actually achieving the standards?


2.      How can we be sure that the alternatives are consistent from school to school and district to district? That is, are alternatives used in some districts too easy? Are others too difficult?


3.      How can we be sure that the alternatives are fair to students from school to school and district to district?


The Regents, and others who may be consulted, will undoubtedly find other important questions that should be answered.