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New York Keeps Raising The Bar For Graduation

Tayshaun Williams is attempting to pass the global history Regents exam for the third time, in order to graduate high school.

The US high school graduation rate is at an all-time high. But why? NPR Ed partnered with 14 member stations around the country to bring you the stories behind that number. Check out the rest of the stories here in our slideshow. And find out what's happening in your state.

The global history Regents exam. It is, by all accounts, the hardest of the end-of-course exams, known as the Regents, that New York high-schoolers have to pass to graduate. It tests cumulative content from ninth and 10th grade. Tayshaun Williams is in 11th grade, in Binghamton, NY, and he's failed it twice.

To make sure he doesn't fail it a third time, Williams studies with not one but two different tutoring programs — one during school and one after-hours.

"I go to school, then twilight, then go straight to work," he says. "Every day. It's a lot."

During so-called "twilight school," Williams studies old Regents tests and works on a strategy for his next attempt, in June.

"You get in, and you have, I think, two or three hours to take it," he says. "And your mind ... you're sweating. And you're really stressed out."

It hasn't always been this way in New York. Students who failed a few Regents exams used to be able to get an alternative diploma. But, since 2001, the state has been raising the bar. The number of tests students needed to pass to earn the alternative diploma climbed steadily for several years. Then, in 2012, the state eliminated the option altogether, except for students with disabilities.

Despite those rising expectations, New York's graduation rate held steady at 77 percent between 2010 and 2013.

If Williams finally passes the global history Regents exam in June?

"I would be so happy I might cry," he says. "No lie."

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