Now that New York state's elementary- and middle-school students have received sobering new test scores showing few students are considered proficient, state officials are turning their attention to high schoolers.
Starting with this fall's incoming freshmen, students will be required to take harder Regents exams to graduate, in a push by state officials to make a high-school diploma more meaningful.
The new tests will start to be administered in June 2014, beginning with the Algebra I and English exams.
Many New York high-school graduates now find they aren't ready for college-level academics, and business leaders say the quality of workers applying for jobs isn't sufficient for the careers in a changing workforce.
In New York City, 29% of the students who graduated within four years in 2011-12 wouldn't be able to pass out of remedial coursework at the City University of New York, according to city data.
Across New York state, 74% of high-school students graduate on time. But the state says only 35% are ready for college, based on what it calls an aspirational-performance measure, or the portion of students who graduated and scored at least 75 on their English exam and at least 80 on math.
Such statistics have called into question what a high-school diploma is really worth. State Education Commissioner John King Jr. said a diploma now means students have achieved basic skills, but it wasn't a high enough standard.
"Students are already accountable," he said. "I certainly worry more about the fact that we're going so slowly."
On Wednesday, New York state education officials delivered something of a shock to the system when they released results for third- through eighth-graders showing that 31% passed new, harder tests aligned with new learning standards known as the Common Core.
Previously, 65% of students had been considered proficient in math and 55% in English.
The standards, which map out what students should know and when, put more emphasis on reading nonfiction and understanding math concepts.
New York is one of 45 states that have agreed to adopt the standards in reading and math.
Moving forward, New York officials will administer math and English Regents exams aligned with the Common Core.
Students are required to pass five exams—two in history, and one in English, math and science—with a score of 65 on each to receive a diploma.