By STACY DRIKS
The Regents exams did not seem to go as planned three years ago, as it was canceled for the first time in over a century because of Covid-19. Moreover, it is unclear what the future holds for the tests themselves as the state is “rethinking” them and what a high school Regents diploma actually means.
The mandated state test has stirred up controversial debates as it does not reflect what a student has learned, some argue.
The education department Board of Regents began to decide what to do with the Regents in early 2019 under then-Chancellor Betty Rosa — now the state education department commissioner.
A few months later, the board created the Blue Ribbon Commission on Graduation Measures.
The discussions the commission is having are supplemented with new ways to assess students. And by November they will present their findings to the board.
In 2022 under Rosa, the commission composed of educators, students, and other professionals started a thoughtful and inclusive process to explore what the Regents diploma means and what it should signify to ensure education excellence for students.
Former educator and current councilman Eric Dinowitz said during his time teaching Regents classes, it has become more data-driven at the expense of quality education. And he believes it is the right path to start asking questions about what students need for their future.
“The prime example was the pandemic — it was all about problem-solving around everyday things, how do we get groceries, food, how do we talk to each other social and emotional education,” he said.
Within the English Language Arts Regents exams, there are several articles arguing an issue. The correct answer is sometimes within the text itself. The grading curriculum does not have students create arguments, rather than just copying and rewording.
During the pandemic, problem-solving was heavily needed as people faced challenges. However, how do we deal with them because the world is in a crisis that has not been seen in 100 years?
Complicated science like the Covid vaccine and the impact it would have on the economy requires collaboration. All that knowledge revolves around biologists and statistics.
The Regents don’t incentivize the teaching of any of those skills, many say.
The 64-member commission has had a total of seven meetings called“ThoughtExchange.” That is a participation group to share ideas on how to revise graduation measures.
The thoughts included the student barriers, including the unseen barrier to student achievement that is not reflected in current graduation requirements.
The big question is what students should know before they leave high school. This includes more than knowledge of education. It’s civics and life.
“I have not visited a single school where I walked in and a principal started talking about their recent scores,” the councilman said. “Do they have recent scores posted on the wall?”
Dinowitz argues that schools do not pride themselves on Regent examination scores. As he goes to many city schools, he saw pinned student achievements — sports and competition awards on the walls.
But yet, some education officials say, Regent examinations help boost best scores and graduation rates.
“It sounds like they don’t spend much time talking to students,” Dinowitz said.
But even now education officials are weighing in on what to do with the Regent examination tests for high school students, which seems vital to not only graduate but to receive one of three diplomas: Advanced Regents, Regents, and Local.
“I want to be very clear — Regents are typically poorly written exams that don’t measure the intelligence of work ethic of the students and often barely reflect the curriculum that students are taught during the year,” Dinowitz said.
However, most states do not have a graduation prerequisite equivalent to the Regents examinations. But that has yet to avert them like New Jersey, which offers multiple graduation pathways with high levels of student achievement.
“Excellence, in other words, can come in many forms,” said JP O’Hare, state education department spokesperson.
For example, New Jersey graduation terms have multiple pathways while earning 120 credits to earn their high school diploma including an exit exam.
Meanwhile, the New Jersey education board is considering to lower the state’s proficiency assessment passing score.
As of recent, educators voted to lower the passing score to the New Jersey Proficiency Assessment passing score to 725 from 750.
Similar to New York, some New Jersey members fear lowering state standards, or cancellations of exams will prevent students from going to college as they won’t be ready.