Gloria Sesso, co-president of the Long Island Council for the Social Studies, says a state proposal to cancel Regents history exams would have a negative impact on the education of students.  Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

A recent state call to scratch Regents history exams in June, even as other exams are administered, would amount to "educational malpractice," some Long Island educators contend.

The Long Island Council for the Social Studies, representing 1,100 teachers and administrators, issued a letter Monday blasting a Feb. 23 statement from the state Education Department. In its statement, the agency had said it would propose in March that any Regents exam not required by federal law be canceled in June for the second year in a row.

New York State sponsors a total of 10 Regents exams in subjects ranging from English to physics. Three such tests are used to fulfill a federal requirement that all high school students be assessed in English, math and science.

Canceling all but three of those exams would mean elimination of assessments in U.S. History and Government and also Global History and Geography, among others. This touched off Monday's pushback by the Island's social studies educators, who insisted that a viral pandemic, coupled by widespread political unrest, was no time to de-emphasize education in civics.

"The Council is stating that if any Regents is given, Social Studies must be included as it is equally or more important as any other subject to the recovery of our country," Monday's letter stated.

The letter went on to contend that academic skills associated with lessons in history and civics, such as critical thinking and identifying bias, "are more important than ever to a democratic society seeking to ensure the growth of an informed citizenry."

The council's executive board, which signed off on the statement, emphasized that it was not weighing in on whether Regents exams should be given to students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather, the board said, it was making the point that history exams should not be excluded from any administration.

"What is tested is taught," said Gloria Sesso, of Port Jefferson, the council's co-president, in describing the pivotal role of exams.

Regents exams were canceled in June and August of last year, as well as in January. Resumption of some exams later this calendar year appears likely. President Joe Biden's administration announced that it would not accept state requests for blanket waivers from federally required testing. The administration added, however, that it would remain flexible on the question of when exams would be given, and that some testing could extend into the fall.

In Albany, state education officials, who already had requested blanket waivers, said Monday that they would continue pressing for federal permission to cancel all Regents exams in June. Earlier, they also said they would propose canceling some exams not required by federal law when the state's policymaking Board of Regents meets on March 15.

State officials did not say when the three required exams might be administered. But a department spokeswoman, Emily DeSantis, said they continued talking to federal authorities "to find a path forward that is best for the health and safety of all New York's children."

Teaching of history and civics is an issue throughout the country, where such subjects have lost ground in recent years to math, science and technology. In 2018, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation published survey findings that only 36% of Americans could pass a multiple-choice test consisting of items taken from the U.S. Citizenship Test.

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