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70 HS principals slam Regents over tests

Eighth grade students prepare to take a Regents

Eighth grade students prepare to take a Regents exam at South Side Middle School in Rockville Centre. (June 18,2010) Credit: Newsday/Karen Wiles Stabile

Seventy high-school principals across Long Island say the state Board of Regents is shortchanging students by canceling January exams to save money and are calling for reinstatement of the tests.

The principals, in an open letter to the Regents, said the decision harms students across the spectrum -- from those with special needs to those striving for advanced diplomas that often lead to better college prospects.

Some students might be forced to wait until June 2012 to retake exams if they failed tests taken in the last two weeks of school. Some -- but not all -- Regents tests are being offered Aug. 17 and 18.

The Regents, in deciding last month to eliminate the January tests, cited budget concerns. A board spokesman said the action saves $1.4 million.

"This is simply unacceptable," Sean L. Feeney, president of the Nassau County High School Principals Association, wrote in the principals' letter earlier this month.

"Elimination of the January Regents examination would potentially have significant implications on graduation decisions and create tremendous uncertainty for both our high-achieving and struggling students," he wrote.

The January test period, which started in the 1990s, is a "critical second opportunity for students who had difficulties passing the end-of-year exams but were still striving for a Regents diploma," he said.

Six Regents Competency Tests for students with special needs also were eliminated in January.

 

Counting on Regents

Across New York State, students take about 2.3 million Regents exams each year -- 1.9 million in June, 100,000 in August and 300,000 in January, according to the state Department of Education.

Statewide results on the 2009-10 Regents tests, the latest figures available, showed that 30 percent of students did not score a passing 65 on the global history and geography exam and 28 percent failed the integrated algebra test. Comprehensive English scores were somewhat stronger, with 17 percent scoring below 65. More than 225,000 students statewide took each of those tests that year.

Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch did not return a call yesterday seeking comment.

Tom Dunn, a Regents spokesman, said in an email that the decision was "driven by funding."

"Unless funding is restored, the January Regents exam session cannot be restored," he said.

School officials say the cancellation causes myriad problems.

For example, students must pass the Regents exam in algebra 2/trigonometry to attain a Regents with Advanced Designation diploma. The test typically is taken by 11th-graders. If a student fails the test taken earlier this month, there is no opportunity to retake it before June 2012 -- months after college applications are due.

Hank Hardy, the Port Washington school district's director of guidance and counseling, said students could be forced to take makeup Regents exams in the last days of their high school career.

He noted other complications, too, saying students who speak English as a second language are "at an extreme disadvantage" because they have one fewer chance to pass.

Geoffrey N. Gordon, superintendent of the Port Washington district, said the board's decision puts an undue burden on students.

"It's hard to understand why the state is increasing the testing and pressure on grades three through eight while they are cutting opportunity for some high school students to graduate," he said.

 

Principals' frustration

Feeney, principal of The Wheatley School in the East Williston school district, said the letter to the Regents also speaks to principals' frustration with the Regents' speed in making changes and what he calls a lack of consultation with school officials.

"You are feeling as if, 'Holy cow, stop and listen please,' " he said. "We are team players. We want to be part of a team and we want to work, but this was a little frustrating."

The board asked schools if they would consider paying for the exams, which cost $6 per test. Several said they would, but Dunn said the option was largely unpopular.

Kishore Kuncham, superintendent of Freeport schools, said the Regents' decision could lower his district's graduation rate. He was one of the superintendents who agreed to pay for the tests.

"Do I want to incur additional costs at this time? No. But under the circumstances, I would rather pay and not lose the opportunity [for students]," he said.

Michael Wayland, a spokesman for Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), said the Assembly wanted to give the Regents more funding, but the Senate didn't agree.

"It's an absolutely unfortunate situation," he said.

Scott Reif, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), said, "The Legislature was as responsive as it could be to the state Education Department's needs."

Feeney said the amount of material covered in some courses is immense. The Regents' Global History and Geography exam, usually taken by 10th-graders, is administered after a full two years of instruction.

"If you are not able to take that in January . . . you wait a year, and then have to review two years' worth of material," he said.

Richard Nathan, superintendent of Lindenhurst schools, said, "Even the best student is going to forget what they learned" if they must take a retest a year later.

Poor students, Feeney said, may be disproportionately hurt.

"Research among our members has shown that our most vulnerable students -- those who receive free or reduced lunch -- are more likely to need a 'second chance' " on Regents exams, he said.

 

Eliminated and retained

The state Board of Regents last month eliminated a variety of tests, citing budget cuts. The latest action follows smaller reductions last year. Here's a summary of tests eliminated and retained since spring 2010:


Eliminated:

January administration of all Regents exams

Regents exams in algebra 2/trigonometry and chemistry, usually given in August

High school Regents exams in six foreign languages

Eighth-grade foreign-language proficiency tests

Fifth-grade and eighth-grade social studies tests

 

Retained:

Regents exams in comprehensive English; U.S. history and government; global history and geography; four sciences; and three levels of mathematics

English and math tests, grades 3-8

Science tests, grades 4 and 8

Regents Competency Tests (students with disabilities only)

-- JOHN HILDEBRAND

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