NYSED Board of Regents expands graduation options for special-needs students


The New York State Education Department’s Board of Regents approved a measure to expand graduation options for students with disabilities. The change gives school administrators greater discretion to grant high school diplomas to students who have good grades, but struggle with state tests.

The change was adopted as an emergency measure, and took effect on Tuesday. After a 45-day public comment period, the board is expected to make the reform permanent, meaning that students hoping to graduate in May will be able to make use of it.

“As policy makers, it's our job to give all students the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to meet the state's graduation requirements,” Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa said in a statement. “The rules we adopted today will enable many students with disabilities to graduate high school with a meaningful diploma.”

The policy shift, which followed years of activism by local parents and incremental changes by the Board of Regents, combines two previously created measures aimed at credentialing special needs students.

The Career Development Occupational Studies “Commencement Credential” was designed as an alternative for these students. Roger Tilles, Long Island’s Board of Regents representative, said that CDOS “was supposed to take the place of a diploma.” But CDOS recipients, who had to prove to their administrators that they were prepared for post-school employment, found that their prospective employers and colleges had never heard of it, and for the most part, did not consider those who earned it as high school graduates.

The “superintendent determination” option was created in 2016 to give administrators the opportunity to grant diplomas to students who didn’t pass their Regents exams, but achieved a minimum score of 55 on both the English and math tests.

For some students, including Zachary Wallmuller, a CDOS recipient from Oceanside, those testing requirements are prohibitive. Wallmuller has an audio processing disorder akin to dyslexia for speech rather than print, and had passed three of four Regents exams. The English Language Arts test features a number of listening portions, in which long passages are read aloud. “He took it 4 times,” his mother, Nancy Wallmuller said, “and failed it miserably,” with scores as low as seven out of a possible 100.

The policy shift waives the test score requirements to be eligible for the “superintendent determination” option, as long as the student has earned a CDOS credential. Non-CDOS recipients who meet the previous Regents test standards will remain eligible.

“We must continue to have high expectations for all students,” State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said. “The rules adopted today 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.”

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, since 2015, held a number of forums where parents shared their stories to state education officials, and organized lobby trips up to Albany, most recently in July. A contingent of local parents were in Albany when the board announced the policy change.

“This major step will unlock a world of opportunity for kids whose potential has been stymied by an unyielding bureaucracy,” Kaminsky said. “I have met with far too many students who demonstrate a clear ability to succeed on the next level, but have been unfairly prevented from receiving a diploma. Some of these students may go on to change the world and I look forward to seeing what they will achieve.”