New York Considers Scrapping Regents Exams in Effort To Promote ‘Equity and Excellence in Education’

Critics say that the plan fails to offer good alternatives to the Regents, leaving the future of the city’s public schools hanging in balance.

New York State Department of Education.
The New York State Education Building at Albany. New York State Department of Education.

New York high schools could soon do away with the centuries-old Regents exams, as the state education department is proposing a drastic overhaul of public school graduation requirements that critics fear could undermine rigor in the classroom. 

Under the current system, New York State high schoolers must pass at least four Regents exams along with another state-approved exam in order to graduate. Under the proposal announced Monday, that requirement would be scrapped, though Regents exams will still be available for students who choose to take them. 

New York would also offer only one diploma available to graduates, dropping the option of obtaining “advanced designation” diplomas, which education officials suggest could be viewed as less prestigious by colleges and employers. 

Credit requirements would focus on “proficiency” rather than on completing “time-based units of study,” so students could earn credits through new means like approved work- or service-based learning experiences.

Advocates of the Education Department’s plan say that the Regents exams, which have been administered in New York since 1865, had devolved into months of preparation and that teachers felt constrained into teaching toward a test. 

Critics, however, say that the plan fails to offer good alternatives to the Regents, leaving the future of education in New York, which has the largest public school system in America, hanging in balance. 

“True equity and excellence in education is achievable,” chancellor of the Board of Regents, Lester W. Young, Jr., said in a statement, “but only if we provide all students with meaningful educational opportunities and multiple avenues for them to demonstrate their mastery of the State’s rigorous learning standards.”

The director of national research at an organization that advocates for school choice policies, EdChoice, Michael McShane, tells the Sun he’s “not optimistic” about what will replace the Regents. 

“From the descriptions I’m seeing,” he adds, “it looks like the requirements will not be particularly rigorous, and students will be able to get around demonstrating that they’ve actually learned anything.”

“I’m not a diehard supporter of the exams,” Mr. McShane says, “and am totally open to finding ways to replace them with something else, but what that something is matters.”

New York is one of nine states that still require students to pass certain exams to graduate. Policymakers in Florida, New Jersey, and Massachusetts have also put forth measures to make the tests optional or do away with them entirely. 

New York’s proposed measures will be presented next November to the Board of Regents, which must approve them before they can go into effect. Between July and October, the Education Department is hosting a series of public hearings on the proposals.

The New York Sun

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