Graduation Measures: Will/Should the New York State Regents Examinations Survive?

If you attended high school in New York State you probably took Regents Examinations, so did your parents, grandparents and great grandparents. The Regents exams have been around since 1865 and have undergone revisions numerous times; currently the Board of Regents is engaged in a deep dive into high school graduation requirements called Graduation Measures, take a look at the evolution of the Regents exams over the decades here.

I have written about the Graduation Measures process in my last two blogs, see (“Is NYS Raising, Lowering or Adjusting High School Graduation Requirements”) here and (“Graduation Measures: What is the Blue Ribbon Commission and How Will It Impact Education in NYS?”) here

This year (2022-23) a yet to be selected Blue Ribbon Commission will draft a plan and in the fall of 2023 the Board of Regents will review the plan and ultimately accept, reject or amend the plan.

The process began with in-person regional meetings and moved to Zoom during COVID, dozens of meetings and hundreds of participants across the state. I attended a meeting in the fall of 2019, a presentation by the commissioner, a video by the chancellor; we divided into tables and lengthy discussions responding to a template.

While the Graduation Measures process is broad-based the audiences and advocates asked the same question: what’s happening to the Regents Exams?

New York State is one of only eleven states with exit exams; there are safety nets for students with disabilities (Read here) and Appeals and Superintendents Determinations here.

One side argues failing an exam should not stand in the way of earning a diploma.  Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (2015) states are required to test students in reading or language arts and math annually in grades 3-8 and once in grades 10-12, and in science once in each of the following grade spans: 3-5, 6-9 and 10-12. Read here for detailed requirements of ESSA.

Graduation rates in NYS have been increasingly incrementally in spite of the required Regents Exams, and, did jump over the last two years when Regents Exams were cancelled due to COVID. The 2021 graduating class:  See here

All Students:                              86%

Afro American:                          80%

Hispanic:                                   80%

Economically Disadvantaged:   81%

English Language Learners:     61%

Students with Disabilities:         64%

New York City has shown an astronomical jump from 2019 to 2020, See here.

Fair Test, an anti-testing advocacy organization argues states that have abandoned exit exams have seen significant jumps in graduation rates and see only positives in the actions.  See Report here.

Exit exams deny diplomas to tens of thousands of U.S. students each year, regardless of whether they have stayed in school, completed all other high school graduation requirements, and demonstrated competency in other ways. 

The Multiple Pathways to Graduation coalition is asking supporters to sign a petition to urge New York State leaders to decouple Regents exams from graduation requirements Read here.

On the other hand the New York Equity Coalition, representing numerous civil rights organizations has serious doubts about the increase in graduation rates,

Since 2016, New York’s graduation rate has risen 9.4 percentage points, with double-digit increases in Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse. The class of 2021 continued this upward trend, with an 86.1% graduation rate in 2021, a 1.3% increase over the 2016 cohort. While this is great news on the surface, recent changes to state graduation requirements make it difficult to know if graduation rate improvements accurately reflect how well schools are preparing students — especially those who have been historically underserved by the system

While the need for additional flexibility, particularly during the pandemic, is understandable, these changes represent a troubling trend with the potential to exacerbate longstanding inequities in postsecondary preparedness, including graduates needing and paying for non-credit bearing college courses or struggling to pass required workforce exams.

And goes on to make a number of targeted recommendations, Read Report here

Is the State lowering graduation requirements in order to increase graduation rates or to remove unnecessary barriers to graduation and post secondary education?  Can you eliminate exit exams, i. e., Regents, without lowering standards?   Hotly debated questions.

The State is rightfully proud, the only state to adopt My Brothers Keeper with full funding support from the executive and legislative arms of state government, Commissioner Elia wrote.,

Why is it so critical that all students meet high standards and graduate with a meaningful diploma? It’s simple. When some are excluded, all of us ultimately suffer – in many ways. We suffer from our failure to meet America’s commitment to provide opportunity for all; we suffer from competition with others who educate their students to higher standards; we suffer from an unqualified workforce; we suffer from a lagging economy; and, ultimately, we suffer from a society in greater stress. Only when the gaps are eliminated will our State have the resources on which our economic future depends. Only then will all of New York’s students have the choices in life that they deserve.

The support for retaining Regents Exam is vigorous; (“High School Diploma’s Should Mean Something”) writes,

America’s high schools have a credibility problem: The country’s graduation rate is at a record high, but too many students are receiving diplomas without earning them. The most straightforward solution is to require all high-schoolers to pass exit examinations before graduating.

If we look beyond our boundaries the highest achieving nations have exit exams, high stakes exit exams.

Many progressive educators look to Finland as a model education system, no standardized tests, student assessment is project-based, teachers have wide latitude in the classroom, teaching is a highly desirable, well-respected profession, and, Finland administers an extremely rigorous high school exit examination, (See description here) and sample questions here.

China’s Exit Exam, the Gaokoa, has been embedded in the Chinese culture since the time of Confucius and drives Chinese parents across the Chinese Diaspora, a test  that determines a student’s career and even marriage and is considered the world’s toughest exam. See here.

The Netherlands requires a high school exit exam See here.

The French exit exam. The Baccalaureate, is administered annually to 800,000 students French speaking students around the globe.

Are these anachronisms, burdensome and degrading for students or do the exams drive the intellectual capacity of generations of students?

In a month or so NYSED will select the Blue Ribbon Commission and the process will begin, the issues will go far beyond the future of the Regents Exams; however, the future of the exams will be at the top of the public agenda.

Should students be able to answer the question below (January, 2020 American History Regents examination)?

In developing your answer to Part II, be sure to keep these general definitions in mind: (a) explain means “to make plain or understandable; to give reasons for or causes of; to show the logical development or relationships of” (b) discuss means “to make observations about something using facts, reasoning, and argument; to present in some detail”

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

Theme: Foreign Policy Throughout United States history, the government has taken foreign policy actions that have resulted in differences of opinion among the American people. These actions have had impacts on the United States and on other countries and regions.

Task: Choose two foreign policy actions that have caused disagreement among the American people and for each

• Explain the point of view of those who supported the foreign policy action

• Explain the point of view of those who opposed the foreign policy action

• Discuss the impact of the action on the United States and/or on another country or region

You may use any foreign policy action that caused disagreement among the American people.

Some suggestions you might wish to consider include

* purchasing Louisiana (1803),

* declaring war against Mexico (1846),

* purchasing Alaska (1867),

* annexing the Philippines (1899),

* maintaining neutrality in World War I (1914–1917),

* providing Lend-Lease aid to Great Britain (1941),

* sending troops to Vietnam (1964–1973),

* ratifying the North American Free Trade Agreement (1993), and

* implementing Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003).

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

One response to “Graduation Measures: Will/Should the New York State Regents Examinations Survive?

  1. Eric Nadelstern

    It’s hard to imagine why the most recent suggestion of a foreign policy action provided by those who constructed the history Regents exam question is older than many of the students taking the test. Was the intent to ensure that students could not relate their answer to anything they have experienced?


    The questions this raises for me are:

    Is a test the most effective way to assess what students know snd are able to do?

    If we do decide to continue the practice of having a high school exit exam, is the Regents process the most effective test we can construct?

    What alternatives to a test could we envision?

    If we retain a cuminating assessment, how does the one we select improve teaching and learning in the classroom?

    Is there value in using multiple assessments to evaluate students and if so, what should these be?


Leave a Reply

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

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s