Thousands of eighth-graders across Long Island are getting an earlier introduction these days to the academic challenges of high school - sitting for three-hour state exams once reserved mostly for teens a year or two older.

Growing numbers of these "accelerated" 13- and 14-year-olds have just finished taking Regents exams, for credits that will count toward their high school diplomas. In some middle schools, exams once considered appropriate only for honors-track students now are being taken - and passed - almost universally.

State exams in algebra and biology, now called Living Environment, were administered last week. An exam in Earth Science, or geology, was given Tuesday.

In many middle schools, exam preparations are marked by repeated practice tests, early-morning review sessions and teacher pep talks. While some educators and parents worry mass acceleration may overwhelm students and increase failures in schools that don't prepare carefully, students themselves often find the exams easier than they imagined.

"My teacher told us that 91 percent of eighth-graders passed Earth Science Regents last year," said Michael Spelfogel, 14, an eighth-grader at South Side Middle School in Rockville Centre, where Regents-level testing is universal. "That made me feel really confident."


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More young test-takers

Accelerated testing is part of a broader academic push - backed by national political and educational leaders - that starts as early as fourth or fifth grade, and is intended to give students the academic tools they need to complete college-level courses before they leave high school. Eighth grade is pivotal in this movement, and the extent of the push on the Island is illustrated by last year's state exam results recently obtained by Newsday.

According to that data, 95 percent or more of eighth-graders passed Regents algebra exams in Locust Valley, North Shore, Rockville Centre, Shelter Island and Syosset. More than 80 percent passed in Oceanside, Plainedge and Westhampton Beach.

Islandwide, just over 30 percent of all eighth-graders - a total of 11,400 students - took and passed algebra exams last year. That number is up sharply from two years ago, when 8,800 eighth-graders took and passed a math exam.

Direct comparisons are difficult, because the earlier exam, known as Regents Math A, covered more material, and many students waited until the middle of ninth grade to take it. Comparisons are clearer in the sciences, where the number of eighth-graders passing exams jumped from 9,660 in 2007 to 11,770 last year - a rise of 22 percent.


Under state rules, students must score 65 or higher to earn credit toward Regents diplomas.

Accelerated Regents testing began in the late 1980s. More recently, some Island middle schools have dramatically increased the number of students accelerated - in communities both affluent and modest.

Middle-class Oceanside, for example, has boosted the number of eighth-graders taking and passing Regents math exams from 20 percent to nearly 86 percent over the past five years. In the William Floyd district, which serves neighborhoods of more modest means in the Mastics / Shirley area, percentages have risen from 20 percent to nearly 64 percent over two years.

Alaina Jones, 14, an eighth-grader at William Paca Middle School, part of the Floyd system, said friends in a nearby district often express surprise that she and her classmates take Regents exams at such young ages.

"People say, 'Wow! You must be really smart,' " Jones said.

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National leaders would like to see still more eighth-graders taking courses and tests in Algebra 1 - basically, the first in a sequence of college-prep math courses taken in high school.

The National Governors Association made this clear earlier this month when it released recommended sets of "core" academic standards in math and other subjects. If states choose to adopt the math standards, for example, students would be ready for Algebra 1 by eighth grade - in turn, giving students time to prepare for college-level calculus by senior year.


Academic concerns

But the idea of mass acceleration worries many parents and educators, who contend many young adolescents aren't mature enough to handle the pressure. Among the skeptics is Peter Osroff, Garden City Middle School principal and past co-president of the Nassau County Middle Level Principals' Association.

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Osroff has nothing against acceleration per se. His association and its Suffolk County counterpart last spring came out in favor of opening up Regents-level courses to any students wishing to try them. But while Osroff's school observes an "open" approach to admissions decisions, fewer than 60 percent of students opt for acceleration.

"Do we want to push children so hard that they don't enjoy a subject?" Osroff asks.

Others consider such concerns overblown. Rockville Centre superintendent William Johnson notes that acceleration there gives many students a head start toward earning college-level International Baccalaureate credits before they leave high school. Last year, 95.5 percent of eighth-graders passed Regents algebra; 90.3 percent passed Regents Earth Science.

"A rising tide brings everybody up with it," Johnson said.

The following charts show the numbers and percentages of eighth-grade students who were tested and received passing grades in math and science Regents exams during the 2008-09 school year. A score of 65 or more is considered passing.

School districts vary widely in the proportion of eight-graders who take Regents-level courses and exams, with some districts enrolling virtually all eighth-graders and other districts limiting this to a selective group.

The first chart shows the Long Island and county totals, the second chart displays data for Nassau schools broken down by district, and the last is Suffolk schools by district.


8th-grade enrollmentNumber passing Integrated Albegra% passing Integrated AlbegraNumber passing Living Environment% passing Living EnvironmentNumber passing Earth Science% passing Earth Science
Long Island35,40210,97030.992,9618.368,37923.67


District8th-grade enrollmentNumber passing Integrated Albegra% passing Integrated AlbegraNumber passing Living Environment% passing Living EnvironmentNumber passing Earth Science% passing Earth Science
Baldwin 44713830.87 11525.73
Bellmore-Merrick 105730528.86 32430.65
Bethpage 2556525.49 5822.75
Carle Place 1163429.31 3933.62
East Meadow 6269314.86507.99436.87
East Rockaway 1062119.81 1716.04
East Williston 1444934.03 6847.22
Farmingdale 52910519.85 15629.49
Freeport 468316.62 6914.74
Garden City 34720157.93 19355.62
Glen Cove2289642.11 5524.12
Great Neck 50315029.82 21642.94
Hempstead 4305312.33 419.53
Herricks 33821864.50 16047.34
Hewlett-Woodmere 2518433.47 11847.01
Hicksville 4427516.97 7717.42
Island Park 871719.541618.39
Island Trees 2244821.43 5122.77
Jericho 31016753.87# 17957.74
Lawrence 2333515.025724.46
Levittown 6159515.45 14223.09
Locust Valley15715095.545031.85#
Long Beach30714647.56 8427.36
Lynbrook 23510343.83 12653.62
Malverne 1225040.985645.90
Manhasset 2639636.50# 12045.63
Massapequa 70524835.18 24835.18
Mineola 1945126.29 5427.84
North Shore23022396.96231100.43
Oceanside 49442485.8312024.29
Oyster Bay-East Norwich1334332.33 5239.10
Plainedge 25021987.60 20180.40
Plainview-Old Bethpage 42515636.71 22653.18
Port Washington 41110325.06 9823.84
Rockville Centre 26825695.52 24290.30
Roosevelt 1772111.862916.38
Roslyn 28110437.01 13648.40
Seaford 2222913.06 2913.06
Sewanhaka 138235825.90 40729.45
Syosset58355595.20# 30953.00
Uniondale 5087013.78 8616.93
Valley Stream 75924131.7524532.28
Wantagh 3205216.25 4714.69
West Hempstead 1574931.214629.30
Westbury 2905820.00 5318.28

# number redacted, fewer than five students


District8th-grade enrollmentNumber passing Integrated Albegra% passing Integrated AlbegraNumber passing Living Environment% passing Living EnvironmentNumber passing Earth Science% passing Earth Science
Amityville 2153315.35146.51
Babylon 1443927.0812184.03
Bay Shore 4728518.01 14330.30
Bayport-Blue Point 2223515.77
Brentwood 121114011.56 12510.32
Bridgehampton 12# #
Center Moriches 992424.24 2525.25
Central Islip 4184210.05 4811.48
Cold Spring Harbor1684225.00 6438.10
Commack 65124838.10 57588.33
Comsewogue 358256.984312.01
Connetquot5699717.05 13123.02
Copiague 3645414.84 5615.38
Deer Park 3489527.309126.15
East Hampton 963233.33 3536.46
East Islip 4149723.435613.538119.57
East Moriches 642539.06 3757.81
Eastport-South Manor3068427.45 11336.93
Elwood 2108239.05# 8440.00
Greenport 591220.3458.47
Half Hollow Hills86039545.93 41047.67
Hampton Bays 1502315.333422.67
Harborfields Central 31410232.48 11937.90
Hauppauge 3419427.57 7120.82
Huntington 3527721.88 7019.89
Islip 3138727.80 9129.07
Kings Park3289127.7410832.93
Lindenhurst 5649717.20 13624.11
Longwood71111916.74 15321.52
Mattituck-Cutchogue 1452920.00
Middle Country78228936.9624030.69
Miller Place 24715964.37 9337.65
Montauk 45817.78 1226.67
Mount Sinai 2215625.34 5323.98
North Babylon 3994912.286215.54
Northport-East Northport 52812924.43 21540.72
Patchogue-Medford 5879616.35 14124.02
Port Jefferson 91 4953.85
Rocky Point 2665520.685319.92
Sachem Central 114327123.7120217.6723620.65
Sag Harbor 703752.863955.71
Sayville 30114347.519832.56
Shelter Island 2124114.29 25119.05
Shoreham-Wading River2153616.74 5425.12
South Country334185.394413.17
South Huntington 45210723.67 14932.96
Southampton 1184437.29 7160.17
Southold 781417.95 1417.95
Springs 641117.19 1523.44
Three Village67020730.90 23134.48
Tuckahoe31825.81 2993.55
West Babylon 3798422.16 8422.16
West Islip 47633570.38 8618.07
Westhampton Beach 18515583.78 5529.73
William Floyd 72746563.9654975.52#
Wyandanch 122129.841310.66
# number redacted, fewer than five students

Source: State Education Department