The “Regents Exams” in New York State were once a mark of accomplishment for students who chose to take them. They were considered rigorous and prestigious. But sometime in the 1990s, State Commissioner Richard Mills decided that all students should pass the Regents to get a high school diploma. The standards had to be lowered, so that there was not massive failure. Passing the Regents was no longer a badge of high accomplishment.
Now the Regents are debating whether to keep, change, or dump the high school exit exams. Research shows that high school exit exams lead to decreased graduation rates and dropouts. Not surprisingly.
ALBANY – Members of the Board of Regents debated the value of the Regents exams Monday as part of an overall planned examination of the state testing system and graduation requirements that had been delayed due to the pandemic.
“Maybe the Regents exams are not the be-all and end-all,” said Regent Roger Tilles during a meeting that also included a presentation about how students graduate high school in other states and countries. “We have kids that can’t pass a Regents exam but pass all their courses. Should they be denied a future because they can’t pass a Regents test in one area?”
But the rigorous exams get students prepared for the future, argued Regent Catherine Collins.
“I hope the state does not get rid of the Regents,” she said. “I was fortunate enough to have the Regents science diploma, which gave me the foundation to go into health care.”
The discussion comes after graduation rates increased during two years without Regents exams, due to the pandemic. For now, the Regents are back, but a Blue Ribbon Commission is expected to weigh in on new high school diploma requirements next year. The commission was announced in 2019, but the pandemic led to a slowdown and the commission wasn’t named until last year.
The state Education Department said in an email to the Times Union later Monday afternoon that “the Board was not debating whether to eliminate Regents exams. Rather, they were discussing a 166-page report that has been in the making for three years and heard a presentation based on (the) report’s literature review, policy scan and stakeholder feedback….”
In 2019, Education Commissioner Betty Rosa made it clear that she did not think the Regents exams are “working” for every student, and questioned whether the tests improved college readiness, among other factors. She has pressed for alternative paths to a high school diploma, including career and technical programs.
At Monday’s meeting, she urged the Regents to have an open mind.
“We really have to take into account not what worked for us, but what will work down the road,” she said. “At the end of the day, our job is to keep in mind what our students need for the future.”
Chancellor of the Board Lester Young, Jr. was adamant that the board make no decision right now.