New analysis highlights school districts’ reliance on Regents exemptions to graduate students

Press Release

The New York Equity Coalition calls on state to invest resources to ensure students leave high school prepared for postsecondary opportunities

NEW YORK – A new analysis released today by the New York Equity Coalition found that while the state’s graduation rate has steadily risen in recent years, a reliance on exemptions from Regents exams and regulatory changes designed to give flexibility during the pandemic may have inflated the increases.

Since 2016, New York’s graduation rate has risen 9.4 percentage points, with double-digit increases in Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse. The Class of 2021 continued this upward trend, with an 86.1% graduation rate, a 1.3% increase from the previous year.

Yet the vast majority – 71% – of students in the cohort utilized at least one Regents exam exemption to graduate. Additionally, students with disabilities, students from low-income backgrounds, and English Language Learners disproportionately relied on the exemptions to earn a diploma.

The recent changes to state graduation requirements make it difficult to know if graduation rate improvements accurately reflect how well schools are preparing students – especially those who have been historically underserved by the education system – for future success. For the past three years, the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted regular administration of high school Regents exams and the New York State Education Department has made additional regulatory changes that make it easier for students to graduate from high school.

Among the findings of the analysis:

  • The majority of 2021 graduates relied upon at least one exemption to graduate.
  • The reliance on exemptions persisted across all diploma types.
  • Across the state, graduation rates for English Language Learners, students with disabilities, and students from low-income backgrounds have increased over the last four years. Yet their 2021 increases disproportionately relied on exemptions.
  • The Big Five have significant variance in graduation rates.

The findings of the analysis underscore the need for focused and targeted support for all high school students including:

  • Utilize new federal and state funding to support students to meet graduation requirements.
  • Administer Regents examinations to all eligible students.
  • Increase data accuracy and transparency.
  • Provide evidence-based transition support to all students.
  • Institute corequisites in New York State postsecondary institutions.
  • Increase and improve the use of dual enrollment programs across the state.

“The future of New York State relies on equipping our students with the skills and experiences necessary to remain competitive in a fast-paced, global society,” said Jason Benitez, vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion for the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce. “Continued reliance on Regents exemptions will ultimately hinder our students’ future life outcomes, particularly students from marginalized communities. Let us reinvest in our youth by working hard to maintain the high standard of academic rigor they deserve.”

“While we continue to recover from the impact of the pandemic on the academic and mental well-being of our students, it remains critical that we ensure that every student is given the necessary supports and education that prepares them for post-secondary life success,” said Ramon Peguero, president and CEO of the Committee for Hispanic Children & Families (CHCF). “The Committee for Hispanic Children & Families joins our partners in the New York Equity Coalition in calling on New York State to make the necessary investments and steps towards transparency to ensure that all students, especially those who have been historically underserved in the education system, are graduating truly prepared for and with access to all college and career opportunities.”

“We know that students and educators have been working incredibly hard in the face of unprecedented challenges these past few years, and that is exactly why New York must maintain its commitment to high expectations, equity, and academic excellence for all students,” said Dia Bryant, executive director of The Education Trust–New York. “Students deserve the opportunity to demonstrate the knowledge they have mastered, and educators deserve to have meaningful information that will allow them to better support their students. As New York State continues to reexamine its graduation measures, we look forward to an ongoing dialogue about how we can collectively ensure all students leave high school prepared for their future.” 

“It is paramount that every student who receives a high school diploma in New York State is ready for college, career, and civic life,” said Grace Bonilla, president and CEO of United Way of New York City “We are committed to working together to ensure graduation measures in New York State meet the needs of this moment so that all of our students are prepared to succeed upon earning their diploma.”

“The Urban League of Rochester has steadfastly called for rigorous course instruction, equitable access to courses without barriers, and high-quality teachers to give value to the instruction,” said Sebrone Johnson, vice president of operations for the Urban League of Rochester. “This is done to ensure that students heading to college are actually ready for college level work. Relying on graduation exemptions undermines the preparedness work of the students and devalues the very premise of the diploma.”

“As a parent leader I am becoming increasingly more concerned that a high school diploma does not mean our children are college and career ready,” said Samuel L. Radford III, co-chairperson of We the Parents. “What does having a diploma mean if our children can’t pass basic skills tests for employment or have to take non-credit bearing remedial courses in college? The data in this analysis is alarming and cause for concern. Rising graduation rates that don’t equate to better prepared students is misleading. It is imperative that we invest the unprecedented resources available to schools to ensure students leave high school prepared for postsecondary opportunities.”


About The New York Equity Coalition

The New York Equity Coalition includes Better Schools Better Neighborhoods, Brooklyn YWCA, the Buffalo Urban League, The Business Council of New York State, Business Council of Westchester, Capital Region Chamber of Commerce, Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, Democrats for Education Reform-NY, District-Parent Coordinating Council of Buffalo, The Education Trust–New York, Educators for Excellence, EPIC-Every Person Influences Children, Hispanic Federation, ImmSchools, INCLUDEnyc, National Center for Learning Disabilities, New York Urban League, Open Buffalo, Otsego County Chamber of Commerce, Public Policy Institute of New York State, Read Alliance, Turnaround for Children, UnidosUS, United Way of New York City, the Urban League of Long Island, the Urban League of Rochester, and the Urban League of Westchester County.