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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Dumb and dumber: NY rethinks Regents exams

New York students will be able to graduate from high school without passing Regents exams, the state education department proposes. They'll be offered alternatives such as projects, presentations or “performance-based assessments," writes Troy Closson in the New York Times.

Currently, most students must pass Regents exams in English, math, science and social studies, he writes. Some retake the tests four or five times to earn a passing score, and critics say the requirement "may have led more low-income and Black students to drop out." Betty Rosa, the state education commissioner, said the state wants to tackle graduation “through the lens of students” who have faced barriers in “access and opportunities.

In short, rather than try to improve students' mastery of reading, writing, math, science and social studies, educators want to make it easier for those who can't pass the exams to get a diploma.

Exit exams have fallen out of favor across the country, because disadvantaged, black and Hispanic students have lower pass rates, Closson notes. "In Massachusetts, the teachers’ union has backed a bill to end the state’s exam mandate." However, "after Oregon said students would not need to show proficiency in reading, writing and math to graduate, many parents argued a diploma would lose value."

David Steiner, a former New York state education commissioner, said he worries over the “catastrophic disconnect” between students’ post-high school plans and their incentives to have mastered material to achieve them. . . . when we stop telling ourselves the truth about how our students are doing, the only people we damage is our students.”

In many states, said Steiner, "what used to be called 'failing' is now 'passing'."

Changing graduation requirements could turn a diploma into "just a piece of paper," said Jacquelyn Martell, executive director of Education Reform Now New York, in a statement. “Graduation needs to put our students on the path to success or they are doomed to failure.”

The advisory commission also recommended adding requirements in areas such as “cultural competence,” financial literacy and writing skills and broadening access to career and technical education, reports Chalkbeat's Julian Shen-Berro.

Currently, students can earn a "local," "Regents" or "advanced Regents" diploma, based on the number of tests passed and test scores. The commission recommended moving to a single diploma with "seals" for advanced work.

The commission report developed a “portrait of a graduate,” writes Shen-Berro. The attributes "included critical thinking, effective communication, cultural and social-emotional competences, innovative problem solving, literacy across content areas, and a status as a 'global citizen'.”

Golly, that would be nice. Innovative problem solvers! But not on exams.

"Educrats are not fooling anyone," writes Wai Wah Chin in the New York Post. They are "painting 'equity' lipstick on a dumbed-down-diploma pig."

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