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 the Regents; 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 10th 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 viewed as 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 and the Regents were aligned to the Common Core.

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 recently look at the US History and Government here and the English  here.

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

The June, 20118 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.

Education Week muses: “Are Graduation Rates Real?” .

Although more kids are graduating more kids are not prepared for college and must take remedial courses in college.

Graduation requirements vary widely from state to state.

  • The level of rigor and expectations are not the same across schools and districts within states.
  • A significant portion of students do not complete or have access to courses that prepare them for their next steps.
  • Too many students earn a high school diploma without having taken and passed the courses needed for admission into either the more selective or broader-access colleges and universities in their states.

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; however, are the pathways an equivalent to passing Regents exams.

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.

The Regents members are beginning to explore a move away from Regents exams. The commissioner set forth “potential goals,”

  • Prepare students for 21stcentury 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 went 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 chancellor 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 eleven states that requires high school 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.

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.

 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 diplomas? Dual diplomas aimed at improving graduation rates for students with disabilities and English language learners?

The state ESSA law 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.

Currently forty high schools have a state waiver; the schools are called the Consortium for Performance-Based Assessment schools.

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?

Could we offer a Capstone Project in lieu of Regents?

The commissioner and the Board of Regents have begun 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?

2 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. Should New York State End Regents Exams? Regents exams are fine, but they should be decoupled from graduation requirements.

    Can Authentic Assessments Replace the Regents? Does it matter? The regents exams have diminished what is expected of students to answering prompts and regurgitating quotes from four articles to back up their claim. The math regents exams only require students to get about 35% correct on an exam to earn a passing grade.

    Or, Will We Diminish the Value of a Diploma? Well, NYS is the only state to require five regents exams in order to graduate. Does that mean that high school diplomas from the other 49 states are devalued based on that narrow criteria?


  2. Special education in the late 90’s did not take regents exams. Then they were required and they can do a portfolio with it to graduate. Now we have a sliding curve on all exams. Our students need to know less
    than50% to pass. So we pass them to the next level not knowing 50% of the work. So are regents working? The answer is no! Do we need standards ?
    Yes! But the regents are a failure!


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