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New York State Board of Regents considering revamp of high school graduation requirements

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As the New York State Board of Regents once again looks into revamping graduation requirements for high school students and the use of Regents exams, a pair of Five Towns public school administrators believe their districts are offering students the opportunities to become successful graduates.

At the July Board of Regents meeting, the State Education Department introduced a plan that calls for the September creation of a blue-ribbon commission to deliver proposals on revised diploma standards by fall of 2020. The 17-member Regents would make the final decisions.

The state Regents exams have existed for more than 150 years. And the tests, also called exit exams, as a specific number — currently five — are required to graduate high school in New York, which is among 11 states that require students to pass such an exam to graduate. With a growing debate over the effectiveness of the tests, more people are questioning the practice. 

“There is no shortage of proponents and detractors of the existing Regents examinations,” said Hewlett-Woodmere School District Deputy Superintendent Mark Secaur. "With the inception of the Common Core Learning Standard aligned exams, many believe that the tests — especially mathematics — were no longer an accurate gauge of true student achievement. Given that these students were also the first to take the Common Core tests that spawned the opt-out movement, many students and parents had already become disillusioned with NYSED's approach to assessment."

Long Island was one of the epicenters of the statewide opt-out movement, where parents refused to allow their children to take the annual assessment tests. The overall opt-out rate in Nassau and Suffolk counties for the ELA exams was 49.1 percent last year. In Hewlett-Woodmere it has hovered near 60 percent and in Lawrence the number has been lower than 24 percent.

Regents exams measure student achievement in high school-level courses. To graduate from high school, students must pass five Regents exams in: English Language Arts, math, science, social studies, and any additional Regents exam or another option approved by the state. Students can also earn an Advanced Regents diploma if they pass certain additional Regents exams in math and science or NYC Language Other Than English exam.

“One can imagine that the state feels there’s value in the test because it sets a standard, however examining the tests, the passing rates required and in some areas the type of questions asked, my opinion is, it’s time to move on,” said Lawrence Superintendent Dr. Ann Pedersen.

Secaur he would not want to speculate on what the SED is thinking, especially as the department changes leadership. He did note that Hewlett-Woodmere offers several pathways to a high school diploma.

“Our staff works diligently with our students and their families in order to keep them positively engaged in the school and vested in their personal, educational outcome,” he said. “We believe strongly that we do an excellent job at preparing our students for the future of their liking.”

Pedersen thinks that performance-based tests can prepare students for college and careers, but said, “The skills of analysis, cooperation and application of information can be better achieved by a non-paper and pencil test.” 

As for the Regents exams, she said replacing them “may well be the last log in the jam,” and highlighted Lawrence’s Rise Program that is exposing freshmen high school students to college and vocational schools. “We need them to see the opportunities that await them and then hopefully they will understand what we are pushing them too,” she said. 

Have an opinion about high school graduation requirements? Send your letter to the editor to jbessen@liherald.com.