Should New York State End Regents Exams? Can Authentic Assessments Replace the Regents? Or, Will We Diminish the Value of a Diploma?

If you meet anyone who went to high school in New York State I’m sure they’ll remember Regents tests; they’ve been around since the 1870’s.  The Regents were intended for college-bound students; most students left high school and moved onto jobs that allowed them to live a middle class life; jobs, good jobs, were plentiful, commonly union jobs with fair pay and benefits.

In the high achieving school in which I taught only a quarter of students bothered to earn a Regents diploma, three-quarters of the kids earned a local diploma, the requirement, the 9th grade level Regents Competency Test, the RCT, and the accompanying diploma referred to as the RCT diploma. Today we would call the system multiple pathways.

By the mid-nineties the world of work had changed, a college degree was essential for a job. After a few years of discussion the Board of Regents moved to a single Regents diploma system, the RCT diploma was phased out. The plan, originally scheduled to take five years took a decade.

John King was appointed state commissioner,  the state won a  $700 million Race to the Top grant, and, adopted the Common Core State Standards.

Failure rates on the Common Core Algebra 1 Regents increased and the state decided to “scale’ the scores; currently students can receive a passing grade with fewer than half correct answers The state plan was to increase the number of correct answers to achieve a passing grade over time; it hasn’t been happening.

Unless student grades on the Algebra 1 exam increase graduation rates may be impacted, See “Rough Calculations: Will the Common Algebra 1 Regents Exam Threaten NYC’s Graduation Rates? (2015).

If you haven’t seen Regents exams recently look at the Global Studies here and the English here.

Click and try the Regents  ….  How’d you do?

The June, 2016 New York State rate graduation rate was 80%, the glass half full, the graduation rates keep edging up, the glass half empty, one in five kids fails to graduate in four years; six percent have dropped out and twelve percent are still registered in school. Although more kids are graduating more kids are not prepared for college and must take remedial courses in college.

The Board of Regents have been creating additional pathways to graduation,  4 + 1, CDOS, the “safety net” for students with disabilities, the re-scoring option, all part of multiples pathways to graduation options .

The members of the board and the commissioner are beginning to ask whether the emphasis on passing examinations is the best measurement of college and career readiness.

At the October Regents Meeting the members began to explore a move away from Regents exams. The commissioner set forth “potential goals,”

  • Prepare students for 21st century post secondary options, for example, Baccalaureate :programs in STEM, Humanities and Arts, Technical degree programs, Career training certificate programs, Adult education programs leading to certifications, Military service, Employment
  • Offer more flexibility in completing credit requirements, relevant pathway choice and student interest
  • Expand external certification assessment options
  • Allow students to demonstrate proficiency in multiple ways.

And the commissioner when on to list questions: called “Key Considerations”

  • How do we ensure that all students including students with disabilities and English language learners are able to access rigorous coursework?
  • Should students have the opportunity to demonstrate proficiency in a specific area of graduation through a district designed Capstone project?

 The commissioner could appoint a “blue ribbon” commission, experts, who could review the literature, ask for public input and submit recommendations, or, appoint a regents work group who would work with state education staff to draft a plan.

New York State is one of only seven states that requires exit exams, on the other hand critics defend regents exams; every school should meet the same standards, the same exams. The NY Post, the Manhattan Institute and others on the conservative side might accuse the commissioner and the chancellor of eroding the quality of a diploma.

On the other hand the opt-out parents would applaud, one in five students in the state opts-out of state tests and on Long Island more than half of families opt-out. Opting out of regents exams is not an option.

Daniel Koretz, a leading expert on testing has soured on the emphasis on test-based accountability.

High-stakes tests. Lots of them. And that has become a major problem. Daniel Koretz, one of the nation’s foremost experts on educational testing, argues in The Testing Charade that the whole idea of test-based accountability has failed—it has increasingly become an end in itself, harming students and corrupting the very ideals of teaching. 

Are alternative methods of measuring accountability, such as a portfolio of student work, a viable alternative?

The state of Vermont tried to move to a portfolio system which it abandoned; rater reliability was poor.

 A report analyzing Vermont’s pioneering assessment system has found severe problems with it and raised serious questions about alternative forms of assessment.

The Vermont system, which is being closely watched by educators around the country, is the first statewide assessment program to measure student achievement in part on the basis of portfolios.

 But the report by the RAND Corporation … found that the “rater reliability” in scoring the portfolios–the extent to which scorers agreed about the quality of a student’s work–was very low …

 … the report’s author, said the low levels of reliability indicate that the scores are essentially meaningless, since a different set of raters could come up with a completely different set of scores.

“If you’re not rating reliably, you’re not rating,” he said. “You can’t measure anything unless you measure it reliably.”

 Can the state move backwards, to a dual testing, dual diploma system aimed at improving graduation rates for students with disabilities and English language learners?

The state ESSA plan does not include this option.

The commissioner did endorse district-based Capstone projects.

Capstone projects are an excellent example of authentic assessment; at the college level a project might require an entire term to prepare.

The following comes from a partial description of the requirements of a college Capstone project

Capstone Expectations:

The capstone marks the culmination of the student’s studies. Accordingly, the topic selected should require application of a broad range of the skills and knowledge … The final paper must reflect thorough research, analysis, critical thinking and clear writing.

Capstone Content:

  • The topic students choose must be one they develop and work on independently.
  • The paper must showcase a deep understanding of an area….
  • The finished capstone must be a minimum of xx pages and include: an abstract; a background statement; a literature review; objectives; an analysis of existing research; an original analysis of the … challenges; opportunities, threats and possible solutions, critical and thoughtful conclusions; along with a bibliography, charts and any necessary illustrations.
  • The paper may contain primary research, ….Alternatively and more commonly, students may write their paper based on an analysis of secondary research. This approach may include a secondary data analysis or other specified metrics plan.
  • All secondary research must be attributed throughout the paper and in the bibliography.

This is a significant project: the commissioner suggests a “district-designed Capstone project,” how can we assure rater reliability in 770 school districts?

The commissioner and the regents are beginning a long journey with no clear outcome. Students pass courses and fail regents exams: should the failure prevent a student from graduating?  Should one three-hour exam determine graduation? On the other hand bar exams determine who becomes a lawyer; civil service exams determine who becomes a police officer or fire fighter.

I look forward to a deep discussion with experts and public participation and, I would recommend that the state hold hearings around the state.

Are we too wedded to Regents tests?

Are we jumping on a reform wave which may diminish a diploma?

Can/should we change the nature of instruction from the current modality to an authentic, project-based educational modality?

What do you think?

9 responses to “Should New York State End Regents Exams? Can Authentic Assessments Replace the Regents? Or, Will We Diminish the Value of a Diploma?

  1. They should have ended it in the 60’s. But I would support a National Standard, addressing required knowledge bases in Amer History, Literacy, Science and Math. When public school students relocate from one region of the Us to another, they often find one of two dynamics that regardless of how you look at it, are frustrating ones. In the case where a student comes from a school district that functioned at a high level and arrives in NY to find that the school district where he/she will be placed is functioning at a remedial level, then that student will become turned off. If on the other hand a student arrives in NY in need or remediation, he/she may find that the school doesn’t agree as the basis for that child’s needs are in realty the norm for measuring success.

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  2. A couple of points: Before we reject portfolio assessments pre-maturely as being unreliable, remember it’s all about the training of the raters and the nature of the rating scale. ETS has reliably graded essays on a six-point scale because it constantly monitors the consistency of the raters and how closely they score papers with known ratings that are mixed in with the “live” papers.

    Secondly, as recognized as Koretz has become as a testing maven–why did it take him so long to notice (and save his hedged critique for a book) that comes out years after the issue of exams being misused became obvious to non-experts– i.e., parents and teachers. Maybe his next book will tell us the Chicago Fire was damaging.

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  3. I have several concerns.
    1. The Regents exams formerly were created by a committee of teachers and supervisors selected from inside NYS. The exams, together with a list of curricular items circulated to teachers, had many effects. One was to standardize the expected instruction across the State, and another was to measure student achievement. Together with rigorous proctoring and marking procedures (if enforced), there was a recognized standard. Now the entire Regents process has become unreliable, to use a kind word. The math exams are now scored in the raw, and the grades are sent to Albany for the establishment of a “curve” to be used to make grades from raw scores. That happens because the test constructors are not teachers of the subject. The actual exam scores reflect VERY poorly on the mastery of the branch of math being tested.

    2. Grade inflation has become rampant due to political pressures both inside schools by administrators and outside by school districts and politicians anxious to show “progress in increasing graduation rates”. This pressure causes teachers or their supervisors to provide unwarranted good grades, or to change wrong answers to correct ones. I was a staff member at a school where this took place in the 1980’s, and the ensuing rage from the teachers resulted in the test answers being reviewed by Albany, The tests were rescored, the grades were restored to those originally given by the teachers, and a letter of reprimand was sent to the supervisor, Principal and Superintendent. The supervisor was removed. Imagine that happening today.

    3. Without standards, and in NYS the Regents used to provide that, the rigor of instruction and educational achievement is non existent. Look at the public colleges if you want to see what the lack of rigor has done to standards. Adjunct instructors know that if there are student complaints about the amount of, or rigor of, course-work, they will not be asked to return in subsequent terms. Those colleges are full of adjuncts.

    Lastly, since the US News and World Reports began to tally and report the average number of advanced placement courses a student took in High School, and use those numbers to rate schools, the number of those courses has exploded. Since the USNWR does NOT report how many of those students take the test and get college credit for the subject, there are HORDES of kids who NEVER take the test sitting in AP classes.

    Without a meaningful standard to evaluate education, and without a valid and reliable measure to use to scale student accomplishment, graduating students will increasingly present with a useless diploma, embarrassing their alma mater and their teachers, and reducing the public confidence in Public Schools as an effective way to produce knowledgeable young adults.

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  4. I find it interesting that the top of any class in many schools around the state can take a Capstone class with learning designed in an alternative rather typical way. But the students who need to learn in an alternative way, who need it the most are denied this type of instruction and are still made to take tests that don’t measure their strengths or triumphs intelligence!

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  5. The regents should be abolished unless they bring back a non regents diploma for kids who cannot pass the regents, but pass their classes. Especially, for special needs kids who cannot take the regents and pass with a score of 55. Why should special needs kids leave 12 years of schooling without a diploma? It is discrimination against special needs kids who might want to continue their education after high school, but can’t because they do not have a diploma.

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  6. Regents should b ended it’s so many things going on for the pressure of these test

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