HAMBURG, N.Y. (WIVB) – The State Board of Regents will consider changes in the way students are tested for their high school diploma when the board meets later this month.
The changes would allow students taking technical and career oriented classes to replace one of the five core Regents Exams with an customized exam based on a “career pathway” assessment. Education advocates say the changes could effect dropout rates, test scores, and possibly lead to more jobs.
“I think it’s huge for the students in the current technical education programs,” said Kathy Heinle, Director of Career and Technical Education for Buffalo Public Schools.
Heinle was attending a “Career Day” Wednesday, sponsored by Local 17 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, in Lakeview, where trades people were giving high school students a taste of real jobs, that could be just a few years down the road for many of those students.
There are 5,000 students enrolled in Buffalo’s technical education programs, which Heinle said have an 88 percent graduation rate – well above the city average – and go on to higher technical training that leads to jobs.
“It’s the ‘Ah-ha moment.’ They can touch it, they can feel it. They know why they need Trigonometry or Algebra when they have to line up a roof, or put studs on a wall. When they are trying to figure out the electrical current, they know they need their science, and they need their math,” said Heinle.
Jim Smolinski helps manage the Operating Engineers’ training program, and said the kinds of jobs being demonstrated at Career Day – construction, plumbing, welding – are growing in Western New York, and the pay is not bad either.
“But I would say most of the trades are going to be above $20 an hour, plus maybe a $10 or $15 an hour benefit package on top of that. So a total package, probably $30-$35 an hour is where they are looking at starting out.”
State Regent Robert Bennett plans to vote in favor of the changes: “The major reason kids dropout of high school is, they are bored.”
Bennett explained changes in the Regents Exams would allow students to claim credit for what is called “applied learning” – technical education such as welding, hospitality, or automotive repair.
Right now, students are assessed in five areas on their Regents Exams: math, English, Science, U.S. History and Global History. The plan will allow students to replace a history or science exam, but Bennett said Math and English are staying.
“Because anybody that is graduating from a New York high school, no matter what they are doing, college or career, should have basic fundamental skills in math and English, and I don’t think anybody would want us to forgive that under any circumstances.”
Retired carpenter John Magney’s son went through a union sponsored apprenticeship, after high school, and avoided the big bills of college, “The kid is making more than a lot of parents around, right now, and he doesn’t owe a dime for his education.”
Bennett said the Regents changes are designed to give students more choices for their career paths, and are not a knock on four-year colleges.
If the Board of Regents adopts the changes to state exams during their meeting on October 20 and 21, the changes would take effect with next year’s high school freshman class.