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New CTE graduation path a great victory

New York Teacher

Michael Mulgrew
Career and technical education is finally getting the respect it deserves: CTE students’ proficiency in their chosen field will now count toward their high school graduation requirements. The change puts CTE and academic programs on equal footing for the first time ever. It’s about time!

Under the proposed new rules, students who have passed an industry-certified CTE course will as early as June have the option to take the corresponding industry-certified CTE assessment in lieu of one of — or in addition to — the five Regents exams.

This is a tremendous victory for our CTE teachers, students and schools, but also for all of us who believe that our students are more than test scores, that they learn in their own unique ways and that there are many ways to teach them.

No one denies the importance of the Regents exams, but pen-and-paper exams are not the only way to measure our students’ learning or for them to demonstrate to us their mastery of a body of knowledge. For years, we have been engaged in this argument over the different ways to value student learning, and this is the first time in a long time that educators have made an advance.

Our critics accuse us of trying to water down high school exit requirements in order to boost the city’s low rate of students graduating prepared for college or career. They claim that we are trying to do away with rigorous exams in academic subjects and replace them with “easy” assessments in career and technical fields.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

According to researchers at Cornell and Harvard, many of the industry certification assessments are in fact more difficult than the Regents exams and in many cases require students to complete work at the undergraduate or graduate level.

Students in CTE programs who opt to take an industry assessment as part of their graduation requirements will have convincingly demonstrated that they are ready for college or a career.

Industry assessments will not take the place of the Regents exams or other graduation requirements. All students will still be required to pass all of their courses, accumulate the requisite credits, and pass at least four Regents exams. Students in CTE programs will have the option — but will not be required — to replace their fifth Regents exam with an industry assessment.

The goal of these changes is not to graduate students who aren’t ready to enter the world. It is to graduate students with both academic knowledge and practical skills that draw on that knowledge. Isn’t that the ideal of a well-rounded student and citizen?

As educators, we want to open up options for our students and encourage them to pursue what they love by demonstrating that we as an educational system and a society value it.

And what’s not to value?

Today’s career and technical education programs are cutting-edge and in high demand from many students. The possibilities for study are diverse: culinary arts at Food and Finance HS; marine biology at the Harbor School; information technology at Edison HS; and the list goes on.

At Brooklyn’s Pathways in Technology Early College HS, or P-TECH, the school partners with IBM to train students in computer engineering at the college level. These students are learning valuable 21st-century skills that require, as a base, a solid foundation in both mathematics and science. Their academic work and career training are inextricably linked.

Under the new rules, students will also be allowed to swap out exams in social studies, science or a second language for other academic exams. One student may take an additional science exam; another may double up on math or social studies. The purpose is to expand our students’ horizons and help them find their passion.

The new flexibility in graduation requirements recognizes that our students have diverse talents, all of which we should foster and celebrate. Why should we not allow a talented young artist or a student who has mastered a second language to demonstrate proficiency in those areas? What’s wrong with a promising young scientist taking a second exam in the sciences rather than in social studies? Or an aspiring computer engineer — perhaps the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs — taking an assessment in his or her field?

We teach our children that the world is theirs to explore. Why limit it so narrowly right at the moment it comes time for them to enter it?