Why I Support Keeping New York State Regents Examinations.

If you attended public high school in New York State you undoubtedly took regents examinations, tests that go back to the 1865 (See a history of regents examinations here) While the test format has changed over the years the current tests are content-based tests created by classroom teachers.

For decades the state offered a Regents diploma for college-bound students and a local diploma for others that required passing a far less difficult Regents Competency Test (RCT). After years of discussion, sparked by criticism of the limited skills required of RCT diploma graduates from the employer community, the state phased in a single Regents diploma in the mid-1990’s in an attempt to raise the skills of high school students, aka, to make them more college and career ready. (Admittedly a difficult to define term: more in future blogs)

Tests are used to assess student learning and to guide instruction; in order to change outputs you must change inputs. I was invited to sit in on a meeting in a public secondary school: Algebra 1 teachers had completed grading the regents exam and created an error matrix, the most common incorrect answers. The teachers were reviewing their own lesson plans: how could they change their lessons to more effectively address the underlying instructional issues?

Over my teaching career I “cut and pasted” questions from prior regents exams, a common practice. The questions are created by classroom teachers and reflect the state curriculum frameworks.

The New York State Social Studies K-12 Frameworks were created by teachers under the guidance of the State Education Department and revised every couple of years.

The Social Studies regents exams consist of fifty artfully crafted multiple choice questions, a document-based question and a thematic question.

Yes, forty small high schools, mostly in New York City, called the Performance-Based Assessment Consortium are designed so that the instruction leads to the creation of a portfolio and a year-long research project

Students must complete graduation-level written tasks and oral presentations, known as PBATs (performance-based assessment tasks), including an analytic essay on literature, a social studies research paper, an extended or original science experiment, and problem-solving at higher levels of mathematics. Students must also take and pass the NYS English Language Arts Regents exam. Schools may add on additional tasks, for example, in the creative arts, foreign language, and supervised internships.

 I have visited PBAC schools many times; however, in the vast percentage of high schools teachers teach five periods a day with about 30 kids per class – 150 kids: schools would have to be totally redesigned to fit the Consortium Model.

The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) polled members over their attitudes about Regents Exams,

More than two-thirds think all students should continue to be provided with the opportunity to take Regents exams, even if students are not required to pass Regents exams to graduate.

More than half said there should be a statewide test like a Regents exam to determine proficiency in a specific subject.

Respondents were split when asked if the current number of required Regents exams is on target. Forty-nine percent said it’s the right number; 38 percent said there are too many; and 8 percent weren’t sure.

Let’s look at a recent American History regents question; the thematic essay on the last American History and Government exam; below is a question we would expect all students to be able to answer.


Directions: Write a well-organized essay that includes an introduction, several paragraphs addressing the task below, and a conclusion.

Theme: Amendments

The writers of the United States Constitution included an amending process to respond to changing times and unforeseen circumstances. Since the Civil War, important amendments have had an impact on the United States and/or on American society.

Task: Select two amendments to the United States Constitution since the Civil War and for each

  • Describe the historical circumstances surrounding the adoption of the amendment
  • Discuss the impact of this amendment on the United States and/or on American society

You may use any constitutional amendment that has been added since the Civil War.

Some suggestions you might wish to consider include:

13th amendment—abolition of slavery (1865)

18th amendment—Prohibition (1919)

15th amendment—African American male suffrage (1870)

19th amendment—woman’s suffrage (1920)

16th amendment—graduated income tax (1913)

26th amendment—18-year-old vote (1971)

17th amendment—direct election of United States senators (1913)

You are not limited to these suggestions.

Guidelines: In your essay, be sure to:

  • Develop all aspects of the task
  • Support the theme with relevant facts, examples, and details
  • Use a logical and clear plan of organization, including an introduction and a conclusion that are beyond a restatement of the theme.


State Education Department provides a scorers guide and anchor essays at each scoring level. The American History and Government exam will change in format in June, 2020 and SED explains the changes in minute detail (See here)

I support retaining Regents Examinations.

There are some students who are doing passing work for the entire term and fail the Regents by a few points? To the best of my knowledge the state does not collect this kind of data.

Perhaps SED should consider a safety net to address the situation above.

Currently in spite of passing regents exams, passing the required courses and graduating high schools community college students have poor retention rates.

The most recent three-year graduation rate is 26 percent at State University of New York (SUNYcommunity colleges and 22 percent at City University of New York (CUNY) community colleges. The most recent six-year graduation rate is 32 percent at SUNY community colleges and 33 percent at CUNY community colleges

 An in-depth study of community college completion rates shows rates are stagnant or falling while high school graduation rates are creeping upwards.

The state report does not disaggregate Black students by gender; The Black Boys Report from the Schott Foundation also paints a depressing picture of NYS high school graduation rates.

While graduation rates across the state continue to creep upwards the reason may be the sharp increase in students utilizing the Multiple Pathways option,

This year, school districts reported that more than 13,200 students earned a diploma through one of the new pathways, a 15-percent increase over last year.

 The state has no data on the performance of students using the Multiple Pathways option in college.

A report to the Board of Regents “What Success Looks Like: Key Practices of Unscreened High Schools That Have Dramatically Improved and/or Consistently Surpass the NYS Graduation Rate for Young Men of Color,” points to “Rigorous, Relevant Curricula/High Impact Instruction” as the key to improving outcomes.

While other states are raising the bar for graduation, acknowledging that our schools and students have to increases their knowledge and skills in this rapidly changing world we may be looking in the opposite direction. Yes, too many of our kids live in poverty, in traumatized neighborhoods and suffer from generations of the impact of racism, the “answers” must not be to lower the bar.

The My Bothers Keeper report referenced above shows that with the engaged and collaborative leadership, fully involved teachers, adequate funding and commitment schools can prepare our kids for the world ahead.

3 responses to “Why I Support Keeping New York State Regents Examinations.

  1. This is an important starting point for a discussion of the broader question, what does a a high school diploma mean. What do we expect high school students to be able to do after they graduate; use algebra t solve problems, write a research paper on a topic of their choosing; read and analyze texts from a variety of literary forms; speak or read a foreign language; be able to participate knowledgeably in the political process, or some other skills related to the expectations of a twenty-first century workplace heavily dependent of computer skills/

    The basic curriculum has not changed over the many years since I graduated from high school in 1968. The specific content (the range of historical events, the required readings in English, and the depth of scientific knowledge have changed, of course, but the overall shape of the curriculum hasn’t.

    Do we spend time teaching students facts (that they are not terribly interested in) and how to answer multiple choice questions, or do we teach them to challenge their thinking, to research in depth to understand what history teaches us about the present and how to use mathematics to solve meaningful problems in their daily lives (not two trains colliding but the kind of math we encounter in the real world al “Freakonomics”?

    I am a product (as is Ed) of a Regents oriented high school curriculum. In fact, I was told that anything less than a ninety on the Geometry regents would result in my failing the course regardless of the grades earned on tests and homework assignments during it. I didn’t do poorly enough to test that proposition, but it was close. The issue is not the exam but what the exam require of the students and whether they are held to strict and meaningful standards.

    The essay question that Ed includes is a meaningful one that gives students a chance to demonstrate their knowledge of American history, government, and their organizational and writing skills. It requires many skill sets to be answered well within a constrained time period. Students who struggle with anyone of those skills will struggle with the question even if they know the material and could respond well to it given more time, access to a computer or to materials to help refresh their memory. Do we really have to know all the facts about the context of the adoption of a particular amendment to pass, or is knowing how to research and construct a meaningful and accurate response to the problem a more appropriate measure of the kind of skills that will be needed in college or career?

    We need more discussion along these lines and a need to take a deeper look at the Consortium Schools and whether graduation by portfolio and performance is a more meaningful measure of accomplishment and, if so, what it will require of us in reorganizing high schools.


  2. Pingback: Graduation Requirements: Should We Move the Bar Upwards? | Ed In The Apple

  3. Pingback: Should New York State Change Graduations Measures?  (Meaning: the courses and student assessments) – Ed in the Apple: Blogging on the Intersection of Education and Politics Title

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s