New pathway adopted for special needs students in NY

A new pathway for students with special needs was recently approved by the New York State Board of Regents.

“We must continue to have high expectations for all students,” said MaryEllen Elia, State Education commissioner. “The rules adopted … by the Board of Regents maintain the rigor of our graduation requirements, while providing a new mechanism for students with disabilities to demonstrate they’ve met the state’s graduation standards.”

The regulations will adopt new options for the “superintendent determination” as a way for eligible special needs students to be considered for a passing grade.

Bret Apthorpe, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools, agreed with the decision to add more options to the safety net for students to graduate, and said this is part of a larger move by the Board of Regents Commissioner, who acknowledges that every student’s path isn’t the same.

“We ought to have multiple ways for kids to graduate,” Apthorpe said.

The Board of Regents said the reasoning behind the regulation change was to accommodate students who have difficulty demonstrating proficiency on state tests. The new pathway is a “safety net” for students with special needs to pass the ELA Regents examinations.

In the past, students with special needs were required to score a 55 or higher on both the English exam and the mathematics exam in order to be considered proficient in the skills the ELA exams tests for. Students were also able to appeal a score ranging from 52-54.

The regulation allows students who have passed their ELA English and math courses but failed to reach a score of 55 or successfully appeal their score from 52-54 to be eligible for the superintendent determination.

Eligible students would then have to complete the requirements for the New York State Career Developmental and Occupational Studies Commencement Credential. Students are then examined by their respective superintendent.

The review process will allow each superintendent to determine if the student has exemplified knowledge, skills and abilities that the ELA exams test for elsewhere.

Some students occasionally are not able to achieve the commencement credential and the new regulations allows the students’ principal in association with school staff can determine whether the student should receive a local diploma.

“Previous to this new commissioner, every kid had one road to take,” Apthorpe said. “In that one road to take, if they couldn’t meet the requirements, they couldn’t get a diploma.”

Without a high school diploma, these students would struggle to find a job, Apthorpe said.