Roger Tilles, of Manhasset, who represents Long Island on the...

Roger Tilles, of Manhasset, who represents Long Island on the state's Board of Regents, speaks Wednesday at an event hosted by the Long Island Association. In calling for another look at graduation standards, Tilles said the Regents exams are to be reformed — in content and format. Credit: Rick Kopstein

A review of the state’s graduation standards, including Regents exams, is overdue, and the new measures should reflect the skills high school graduates need to be successful in adulthood, top education leaders said Wednesday at an event hosted by a regional business group.

“Kids are going to college, taking out huge amounts of loans, and don't really know what interest is,” said Roger Tilles, who represents Long Island on the state's Board of Regents, which is responsible for setting much of the state’s educational policy.

Tilles, of Manhasset, spoke Wednesday at an event hosted by the Long Island Association, a business nonprofit based in Melville.

His talk came just two weeks after the announcement of 64 members to an advisory panel called the “Blue Ribbon Commission.” The panel will review the state’s graduation measures and help identify the knowledge and skills students need to succeed in a drastically changed world.

The advisers will begin meeting regularly this fall and are expected to present a final report of recommendations to the Regents board by summer 2024.

Another focus of the commission will be rethinking the role Regents exams play in determining whether a high school senior can graduate. Current students must pass at least four or five state Regents exams to get a high school diploma.

For Tilles, the issue came up after he had conversations with parents of special education students. Even though they passed their school courses, some couldn’t pass one or more of the Regents exams, Tilles recalled hearing from hundreds of parents.

“Many of these special ed kids were not being able to graduate and therefore being denied a career, being denied the Army, being denied a college education,” he said. “We were denying them their future.”

Tilles said in a follow-up interview the Regents exams are to be reformed — in content and format.

“After we decide what the graduation requirements are, we have to change the Regents tests to reflect that,” he said. “At the same time, we are working on how to change the process of the Regents tests as well as the content.” 

Part of it could be a shift to performance-based testing conducted over time.

“We're working on performance-based testing, which is to have the kids being evaluated on their performance on a project, or even a regular test, that they have to demonstrate their knowledge,” he said. 

Robert Vecchio, executive director of the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association, said after the event that it’s time to revisit the graduation standards given how much the world has changed and that test scores alone shouldn’t determine whether a student can graduate.

“The test should be part of it,” he said. “It shouldn't be all of it.”

When asked about the concerns some raised over any major pullback of Regents tests leading to lowering standards, Vecchio said changing the requirements doesn’t mean diluting academic rigor.

“Change doesn't necessarily mean watering down,” he said. “I think change can still instill a high level of rigor and high level of expectations while making it different than what it's always been.” 

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