Should NYS Retain or Abandon Regents Exams? Decouple Regents from Graduation? Adopt Another Required “Test”? (maybe SAT or Performance Tasks)?

In the fall of 2019 I attended a regional session of the NYSED Graduation Measures initiative. I sat at a table with a superintendent, a few parents, a teacher and a student and “discussed” a number of questions along with a few hundred other participants. Three years later the process is moving forward, a “blue ribbon commission” is about to begin meeting with a “recommendation” due sometime in the future. The debate, for want of another term, centers on the Regents Examinations, there has been no discussion of “credits” or “seat time” or “course offerings” up to now.

Has the State raised the “right” questions? Will this lengthy process improve education in the state and benefit students in a rapidly changing world?

More in my next blog

The current Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the subsequent federal regulations require computing graduation rates as well as requiring tests and interventions emanating from the results of the tests. Every state is trying to pump up graduation rates, very little talk re the quality of the diploma

The fifty states have different graduation requirements and ESSA require tests in grade 10-12, only a few require “passing” exit exams. NYS is one of the few states that allows opt outs by parents, prior to COVID about 20% of parents opted out their children, ESSA requires 95% school/school district participation rates for all students and all subgroups, NYS has the lowest participation rates in the nation, the feds have required “action plans” from below 95% participation rate states and, thus far have taken no punitive actions. See report here.

States must compute an annual Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (“ACGR”) based upon federal guidelines, .see the federal register here and a dense explanation of measuring graduation rates

ESSA Requirements Simplified,

* 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.

* ESSA allows for the development and dissemination of “high-quality performance-based assessments” through a seven-state pilot program. Under this program, states can develop and implement innovative assessments. NYS choose not to participate in the pilot program.

 • While assessments for elementary schools must be the same for all public school students statewide, states may also choose to offer a “nationally recognized local assessment at the high school level” (SAT, ACT or Smarter Balance, for example) as long as assessments are “reliable, valid and comparable.” New York State uses the Regents Exams and Massachusetts the MCAS

Five states have approved federal waivers: North Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Read a state-by-state description of the “innovative assessments” here and a detailed description of the New Hampshire pilot here.

New York is in the early stages of developing a “high quality performance-based assessment” project using the acronym PLAN.

The Performance-Based Learning and Assessment Networks (PLAN) Pilot is exploring the potential for New York educational assessment strategy to be reimagined in a way that purposefully fosters high-quality instructional opportunities, provides authentic measures of deeper learning and better prepares students for college and the workplace.

The PLAN website explains the goals and lays out the “phases of work” here.

What we have are two parallel initiatives with the goal of merging sometime down the road. The Graduation Measures initiative will present recommendations to the public next spring, summer or fall, all depending on the progress of the Blue Ribbon Commission and the crafting of recommendations by the Board of Regent.

… the 64 member Blue Ribbon Commission on Graduation Measures will undertake a thoughtful and inclusive process to explore what a New York State high school diploma means and what it should signify to ensure educational excellence and equity for all New York State children …

The Blue Ribbon Commission will develop recommendations to the Board of Regents on what measures of learning and achievement could better serve New York’s diverse student population as indicators of what they know and their readiness for college, career, and civic life.

The PLAN pilot is in early stages, schools/districts will apply, training, putting the elements of the plan together, an application to the US Department of Education, probably a few years away.

Where is the State headed?

The Board of Regents (BoR) can abandon the current Regents Exams and switch to another “nationally recognized” assessment, there is no “passing grade,” the student receives a scale score..

The BoR can continue offering the Regents Exams and decouple from graduation requirements, graduation would be determined by accumulating the requisite number of credits. Would the 95% participation rate apply? Probably?  Can kids opt out of decoupled Regents Exams? Can the feds sanction the state if the “participation rate” is not achieved?

The BoR could be granted an “innovative assessment” waiver, the state has a couple of years to go, and, the “innovative assessment” waiver may be more onerous than the current tests.

Unfortunately I fear we may be heading down a dark corridor and the light might be an on-coming stumbling school system

3 responses to “Should NYS Retain or Abandon Regents Exams? Decouple Regents from Graduation? Adopt Another Required “Test”? (maybe SAT or Performance Tasks)?

  1. I was always proud of the quality of education in New York State. I support retaining the Regents Examinations because I think of them as insurance. A really good teacher will teach much more than what appears on the Regents, but a so-so teacher will at least have to cover what is required to pass the Regents. There have been a number of measures over the years to reduce the bar for passing standardized tests in order to have higher pass rates. I think that the best way to honestly achieve better passing rates is to lower class sizes, which of course means investing more money in education. There is nothing inherently wrong with American children, but we as a nation are falling behind other developed countries in academic achievement, as evidenced by the number of no-credit remedial classes offered to college freshmen who are not really college ready after graduating from high school.


  2. Today’s Regents Exams, in design and content, have little resemblance to those your readers took in the 70s, 80s, 90s (and earlier). The “Regents Diploma” is different the “Regents Diploma” of 25 years ago. This was a process, not an all-at-once change… sort of. A lot of this was reworked under Chancellor Mills.

    Perhaps in no subject was the change more dramatic than in my own – Mathematics. They are radically different exams today. They are not the same. This is not just tinkering at the edges.

    I support carefully removing Regents, and replacing them with some sort of work that measures knowledge, such as what they do in the consortium schools in NYC.

    I would also support delinking that work from graduation.

    Jonathan Halabi


    • Jonathan Yes, the exams have evolved over the decades, Social Studies from writing three essays out of a choice of seven to a document-based and a thematic essay, more of a writing test …. the problem with the Consortium Model is in most high schools sfive clss of 30 kids, 150 kids make the model unworkable, over the 30 years of the Consortium Schools the number of schools have never expanded, finding “some sort of work that measures knowledge” that is also “valid and reliable” is the challenge.


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