‘This is a disaster’: New York eyes scrapping regents exam from high school graduation requirements

(Daily Caller News Foundation) – The New York State Education Department (NYSED) unveiled a proposal on Monday that would scrap a requirement for high school students to pass Regents exams in…

(Daily Caller News Foundation) – The New York State Education Department (NYSED) unveiled a proposal on Monday that would scrap a requirement for high school students to pass Regents exams in order to graduate.

The proposal, which would make the exam optional, centers around four “transformative actions” that include adopting a “portrait” where students demonstrate proficiency in being “critical thinkers, innovative problem solvers” and “culturally competent, socially-emotionally competent, effective communicators, and global citizens,” and lowers the number of available diplomas from three to one, according to a department press release. Some education experts oppose getting rid of the requirement, however, arguing that the exams are a way to measure how much students have learned throughout high school.

“It’s very common for college applications to require more than just one test score before they determine whether or not a student is going to be admitted. It is very, very common for them to ask about everything from sports, to community service, to GPA, to what classes they took, to AP scores, and things like that,” Heritage Foundation Senior Research Fellow Jonathan Butcher told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “I think it would be a false claim to say, well, we need to get rid of this Regents exam.” 

The Regents exams are “achievement tests that are aligned with New York State’s learning standards,” and they are “used to identify major learning goals, offering both teachers and students a guide to important understandings, skills, and concepts,” according to the NYSED. Students must pass exams in English, mathematics, science and social studies to be eligible for graduation. 

“When you have an end of course test, which is common and somewhat common in states, they’re not all requirements for graduation. The Regents is one, and those help us to see how much a student has retained or has learned from their high school experience,” Butcher told the DCNF.

Yiatin Chu, co-president of the education advocacy group PLACE NYC, spoke out against the policy in November 2023, when it was initially proposed, The New York Post reported. At the time, she argued such a proposal would be “lowering the bar for students.”

“There are great teachers, mediocre teachers, and there are just downright not great teachers, and they will be, in some ways, accountable,” Chu told the DCNF. “Their accountability is metrics like the state tests, like graduation rates, and now they are the arbiter of those things without any objective measure.”

“We have a very large school system in New York state, very heterogeneous group of, you know, students, and now we are removing the accountability measure,” Chu continued.

PLACE NYC, founded in 2019, is an organization that focuses on “improving the academic rigor and standards of K-12 public school curricula and to improve students ability to achieve their greatest academic potential and prepare them for the next phase of their life’s journey,” its website reads.

“The parents that care deeply about accelerated education, about holding our schools accountable, will look to schools that are graduating students based on, still, the Regents test,” Chu told the DCNF.

The NYSED noted in its press release that the proposal follows graduation measures “designed to bring greater equity to the State’s education system.” An initiative launched in 2019 aimed to determine what a state diploma should “should signify,” and it sought to “create true equity in New York State’s public education systems” as well as ensure all students had the skills to succeed after graduation.

“Our job is to prepare students for a lifetime of continuous learning, fulfilling careers, and informed civic engagement. Let’s provide them with the tools to do that – and then let’s stand back and watch as they pursue their own pathway to success,” Lester W. Young Jr., Board of Regents chancellor, said in a statement.

The proposal will be presented to the Board of Regents with specific timelines in November, who then must approve any changes, according to the press release. There will be public forums between July and October.

Alan Singer, a professor of education at Hofstra University, argued in favor of keeping the exams as they help manage expectation, AMNY reported.

“Without the exams, or with exams but no requirement that students pass to graduate, what gets taught in social studies, history, and civics will vary from school to school and from class to class,” he explained to the outlet. “This is a disaster in a society that is already atomized and where there is sharp disagreement about the meaning of the past and the issues that face the country today. In sequential subjects like math, students will be passed on to more difficult classes without any evidence that they mastered the prior work.”

Some local advocacy groups, however, believe that removing the exam requirement is a change that will provide students who struggle with testing more opportunities.

“Exit exam policies like New York’s have caused significant harm to young people while failing to achieve their intended aim of improving the quality of teaching and learning,” Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), said, according to AMNY.

Over 55% of high school seniors in New York City were “chronically absent” during the 2021-2022 school year, the NYP reported.

Young did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment. The NYSED deferred to its press release, and Advocates for Children New York and Singer were unavailable for comment.