DUMBING THINGS DOWN: New York Making Regents Exams Voluntary

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The Regents exams are set to become optional.

On Monday, the New York state Education Department unveiled a plan to gradually eliminate the Regents exams as a high school diploma requirement.

This proposal emerges as thousands of students gear up for their June exams, which are still mandatory. No changes will take effect until the Board of Regents votes on the matter, which is still several months away. Therefore, the Regents exams will continue to be a requirement for at least one more academic year, according to school officials.

The Board of Regents is scheduled to receive the formal proposal in November. This proposal will outline the anticipated timeline, financial impacts, and the extensive regulations that need to be revised.

Once the changes are implemented, students will need to demonstrate their proficiency in various 21st-century skills. This could still be achieved through exams, as the Regents tests will remain available. Students will also need to pass the required high school courses. However, they could alternatively complete projects, deliver presentations, gain real-world experience through internships, or participate in performing groups to showcase their skills without taking a test.

How schools will structure these alternatives and whether some districts will still want to mandate Regents exams or final exams at the end of courses remains uncertain at this early stage.

The new skills students will need to demonstrate include critical thinking, innovative problem-solving, literacy across different content areas, and effective communication.

The aim is to provide students with the option to choose the best way to demonstrate their proficiency while minimizing the perception that some paths are easier than others, explained State Education Department Deputy Commissioner Angelique Johnson-Dingle.

This summer, state education officials will engage with school districts to determine what support they might need to implement the “expanded choice” graduation requirements. Potential challenges include the need for increased transportation for rural schools and additional staff to supervise students in real-world experiences.

“There is still a lot for us to figure out,” Johnson-Dingle stated.

Board of Regents members expressed their enthusiasm for the proposed changes.

“I couldn’t be prouder,” said Vice Chancellor Judith Chin. “As an educator over 30-some years, we’ve never had this conversation, and it’s about time we did.”

Regent Frances Wills emphasized that multiple-choice exams are not the best measure of mastering a subject.

“This is something we’ll have to get over, this ingrained mindset,” she said, recalling her own experience with the Regents exam in physics in 1959.

“I did well on the physics exam, but if someone had given me an activity — some experiment to do — or if I had to talk about physics, I could not do that,” she explained.

The Board of Regents had been hinting at this exam change for over a year but waited for recommendations from a committee comprising teachers, school leaders, students, and members of educational nonprofit organizations.

The committee’s formation began before the pandemic, but their meetings didn’t start until last year. They worked with urgency to complete their tasks sooner than expected. In November, they proposed a series of recommendations to overhaul high school graduation requirements.

The primary recommendation was to eliminate the Regents exams as mandatory graduation tests.

The exams, which have been around since 1878, were traditionally seen as beneficial for college-bound students. In the late 1990s, the Board of Regents made five exams mandatory for a high school diploma.

The committee also suggested changes to high school education, including more flexibility in math courses and a focus on high-demand skills rather than rote memorization.

They advocated for students to synthesize facts more thoroughly, particularly through projects, and for high schools to incorporate more real-world experiences such as internships and public speaking.

All of the committee’s recommendations will be implemented, state officials confirmed.

To illustrate the alternatives, state education officials provided examples of how students might meet the new effective communication requirement:
One student could earn the state Seal of Biliteracy, pass an English composition class, and complete a capstone project that integrates all course topics. Another student might pass a Career and Technical Education program in digital media communication, pass the English Regents exam, and work at the student newspaper.

Other options include completing projects, such as designing and building something in geometry class or writing a program for a computer science class. In the arts, a student might demonstrate proficiency through participation in a performance group. Certificates from vocational programs, real-world jobs, and internships would also be valid options.

Schools may also accept Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exam results as alternatives.



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