A student takes an exam in this photo from 2019.

A student takes an exam in this photo from 2019. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

A newly designed state Regents exam in U.S. History and Government, scheduled for its first administration June 1, was abruptly canceled Tuesday after state education officials decided that some testing material might traumatize students already upset by news surrounding a recent mass shooting in Buffalo. 

State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa, who announced the cancellation in a letter to educators, said her department would seek to ensure exemptions for students who needed exam credits in order to graduate from high school. Thousands of 11th-graders on Long Island and statewide were due to take the three-hour exam, but students as young as in the eighth grade also had prepped for the test. 

State education staffers did not immediately disclose sections of the new exam deemed potentially traumatizing. But Rosa's announcement made it clear that the cancellation was in connection with a suspected hate crime, in which a white gunman is accused of killing 10 Black people in a Buffalo supermarket May 14.

"In the wake of the heinous mass shooting in Buffalo, the department is taking numerous steps to explore potential areas of support for students and schools across the state," Rosa wrote. "During that review, our experts determined that there is content on the new Regents examination in United States History and Government ... that has the potential to compound student trauma caused by the recent violence in Buffalo." 

Certified social studies teachers had developed the new test more than two years ago, and questions had been administered to students on a trial basis to make sure they were sound, Rosa said. The commissioner added, however, that the Buffalo mass shooting had created "an unexpected and unintended" new set of circumstances. 

Gov. Kathy Hochul's office, when asked about the material on the exam that led to its cancellation, issued a statement. "The State Education Department is not under the control of the Executive Chamber and has not disclosed additional specifics on their decision to us," it said.

Planned administrations of the exam in August and January also would be called off, since there was not enough time to revamp the assessment, Rosa said. 

A fuller set of Regents exams still is scheduled for June 15 through June 23. This follows a series of COVID-related disruptions, when exams were called off entirely in June 2020, then partly restored a year later. 

On Long Island, where many students have spent weeks in intensive drills prepping for the new exam, initial responses were a mix of frustration and resignation. 

"Our students were ready," said Lorna Lewis, superintendent of Malverne schools and a past president of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. "If the test material was, in fact, trauma-inducing, then the last thing we would want to do is introduce the material as part of an exam." 

Lewis added that 134 11th-graders and 41 eighth-graders in her district had been preparing for the exam.

"It is difficult to comment at this time, not knowing the offending material," said Gloria Sesso, a retired school administrator who serves as co-president of the Long Island Council of the Social Studies. "However, the notification has caused disruption and confusion. It is unfortunate that the offending material was not noticed earlier during their extensive reviews."

With Michael Gormley

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