Herald Schools

Lynbrook teachers: Do No Harm policy hurts students

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At the June 13 Lynbrook Board of Education meeting, several students and teachers expressed their displeasure with a district policy that omits students’ Regents exam grades from their class averages if the scores do not help them.

Under the Do No Harm policy, a Regents score is not included in a student’s final course grade if it negatively affects his or her average. Instead, each quarter’s grade counts for 25 percent of the final grade. Regents scores count for 20 percent of the final averages of those whom they help, with each quarter comprising 20 percent.

“What it does is, it creates an uneven playing field,” Craig Kirchenberg, a Lynbrook High School English teacher who is president of the Lynbrook Teachers Association, said in an interview after the meeting.

The policy was adopted at a board meeting last October. Outrage over last June’s controversial geometry Regents, which included a question that could not be answered and one that had more than one correct answer, led to the policy. Parents and students asked the board about the possibility of reducing the weight given to Regents exams, or adding a Do No Harm policy. Jonathan Burman, a State Education Department spokesman, told the Herald last June that the department leaves decisions like the no-harm rule up to individual districts.

At last week’s meeting, high school guidance counselor Laurie Mitchell said the practice causes a problem for students applying to college. Speaking on behalf of the Guidance Department, Mitchell said that Robert Pertusati, Stony Brook University’s senior associate dean of admissions, told her that students’ grades might be called into question “if there is a significant difference between a student’s course average and their performance on the Regents exam.”

Admissions counselors from the University of Binghamton, Syracuse University and Hofstra University also said that they use Regents tests to evaluate students from New York against one another. Mitchell noted that 62 percent of the Lynbrook High class of 2018 would be attending New York state schools in the fall. Schools outside New York also consider the Regents a standard by which to compare New York students against one another, Mitchell said.

“Having a standard for one student and another for others calls into question how our grades accurately portray students’ academic performance and ability,” she said. “Our teachers certify the grades and put their reputation and teaching license on the line. Guidance counselors certify the efficacy of transcripts and put the reputation of Lynbrook High School on the line.”

Teachers also said the policy creates a moral dilemma for them. “One of the things I’m really having a hard time with is that I’m being directed to do something that goes against every single thing I know about good pedagogy,” said Carla Gentile, an English teacher at the high school. “I am, and we are, sending a message to our kids to game a system when a system isn’t working for us.”

Some students also spoke against the policy at the board meeting. Junior Sam Cohen said that as a result of the rule, some students in his grade have not been studying for the Regents exams. And senior Humza Khan said the policy is unfair to honors students.

“As soon as the senior class heard about this Do No Harm policy, specifically people in honor societies were tremendously outraged by this,” Khan said. “I don’t think that we should make the game easier for those who aren’t willing to put in as much effort.”

Before the policy’s enactment, a committee was organized to examine the effects the policy would have on grades and transcripts, at the behest of the teachers association. The committee, which comprised teachers and administrators, shared information about what other districts are doing and how colleges look at students’ grade point averages, according to Gerard Beleckas, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment. He noted that most universities do not account for the Regents exams’ effect on students’ final grades.

Beleckas also said that the 18 districts the committee looked at in Nassau County weighted the Regents between 10 and 12 percent of students’ final grades. He added that 11 districts had it at 20 percent, five had it from 0 to 9 percent, and three 15 to 19 percent.

In the end, Kirchenberg said, committee members favored reducing the weight a Regents score would have on a student’s class grade to 15 percent from 20, but the district ultimately moved forward with the Do No Harm policy.

“What I want is for the Board of Education and central administrators to take the recommendations from the committee of professionals and repeal the Do No Harm policy,” he said.

Superintendent Dr. Melissa Burak said in a statement that school officials were unable to comment on the proposal. “However, the district will be reviewing this year’s Regents results carefully,” she said.

Mike Smollins contributed to this story.