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Allowing some LI students to take two Regents exams -- one easy, one hard -- unfair, educators say

Two leading Long Island administrators were critical of

Two leading Long Island administrators were critical of the New York State Education Department's guidelines on the algebra Regents exam. Credit: Heather Walsh

Students in some Long Island public school districts gained an unfair advantage on the algebra Regents exam given last month as students could take both the older, easier exam and the tougher Common Core-based tests as well and use the higher score on their transcripts, two leading local administrators said this week.

The educators were critical of the New York State Education Department's guidelines on the exam, which is typically given to eighth- and ninth-graders, saying that a state directive issued in March was unclear on how districts could administer the Regents tests. The memo noted that students who took both tests in June could use the higher score on their transcripts.

As a result, some districts offered students the chance to take both exams, while other districts gave only the Common-Core based tests. The state did not have figures on which districts administered both.

"I never like it when students are not held to the same standard and this did permit some students to have a second shot while other students did not," said Susan A. Schnebel, the Islip superintendent and president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association. Islip students took the Common Core-based test.

A guidance memo sent to districts from the state Department of Education explained that two groups of students statewide could take the Regents exam in Integrated Algebra for graduation purposes. That exam incorporated the 2005 learning standards and not the more rigorous Common Core standards.

Students who started algebra instruction under the 2005 standards before the 2013-14 school year could take only the Regents exam reflecting those standards. However, students who began instruction in the Common Core learning standards last school year may, at the school's discretion, take both exams, with the higher score counting toward graduation.

Students who began instruction in Common Core Learning Standards Algebra during the current school year may only take the Regents Exam in Algebra I (Common Core) for graduation purposes, the memo stated.

In Islip, the passing rate on the Common Core-based test was 80 percent compared with last year's 89 percent.

Plainview-Old Bethpage Superintendent Lorna Lewis, president of the Nassau County Council of Superintendents, said the state should intervene, and make it clear that a student's transcript only reflects the Common Core exams for eighth- and ninth-graders taking the test for the first time. The state has not yet received data from districts regarding Regents exam scores.

Jonathan Burman, Education Department spokesman, said Friday: "We don't want colleges to misinterpret students' scores -- so we're considering how to best notify them that this years' scores shouldn't be compared with past years because of the increased rigor of the new exams. It's important to remember that most students who took this test were in eighth or ninth grade, so we have time to work through the college issue."

In Syosset, Superintendent Tom Rogers said the district administered both exams to nearly all eighth-graders. He referred to the field memo, saying Common Core instruction began before the current school year for Syosset students who were in seventh grade at the time.

The district informed the state about its intention to administer both exams, he said. They were given a day apart in June. "We acted out of complete caution all the way along," Rogers said. "We were not relying solely on the memo but also were calling the state Education Department and let them know what we planned to do."

In Jericho, Superintendent Henry Grishman said both tests were given. "Our interpretation was that we read the field memo and we had taught some of the units in seventh grade," he said. "Based on our reading of the field memo, we felt we had every right to give both exams."

Lewis said she had heard from parents angry over the issue. Plainview-Old Bethpage students were given the Common Core exam. "It is very important for all of us to be sure that all children are given the same opportunities and what has occurred is that not all children had the same opportunities," she said.

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