Under a new plan, high school students across the state would no longer need to pass traditional Regents exams in order to graduate. NewsdayTV's Steve Langford and Newsday education reporter John Hildebrand report.. Credit: Newsday; YouTube/ NYS Education Department

Passage of state Regents exams, an academic staple for more than 150 years, would no longer be required for high school graduation, under a sweeping plan outlined Monday during a two-hour meeting of the Board of Regents in Albany.

Also up for elimination are Regents diplomas, which thousands of students earn each year by passing at least four exams and related courses.

Supporters describe the plan as an effort to meet student needs in the 21st century; opponents, as a downgrade of standards. 

To replace traditional exam requirements, students under the plan would be allowed other options for demonstrating knowledge and skills — for example, completion of year-end class projects or performance of public service. High school diplomas would continue to be issued, but there would be only one such credential, rather than the Regents-level and “local” diplomas now available.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • New York, under a new state plan, would drop its requirement that students pass traditional Regents exams to graduate from high school.

  • As an alternative, students could demonstrate skills through completion of research projects, public service and other achievement.

  • Supporters say the plan will help more students graduate; opponents counter by calling this a slip in standards.

The status of Regents exams has been discussed and debated by Regents before, most notably at a Nov. 13 meeting featuring recommendations from an advisory panel. Monday's report by state education officials was notable for its explicit description of what lies ahead, including the proposed “sunset” of exam requirements.

State education officials who launched the movement several years ago, have contended the shift will allow greater numbers of students to quality for graduation. On Monday, Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa referred to the plan as a “bold vision,” while acknowledging that much work by state and local school authorities remains to be done. 

“It takes an incredible amount of time, work and collaborative effort to transform an education system, and we will not stop working until we get the job done right for all New Yorkers,” Rosa said in a prepared statement. 

Rosa and her department associates have added that students will continue to take mandated exams in three subjects — English, algebra and a science — because these are required by federal law. While students would be required to take these exams, they wouldn't be required to pass them to graduate. However, that law does not require testing in history and government — a fact that stirs deep concerns among social studies educators on Long Island. 

“I'm so flabbergasted, it's hard to find the words,” said Gloria Sesso, president of the Long Island Council for the Social Studies, which represents about 1,100 school supervisors and teachers in the region. 

“It seems they're betraying their commitment to make sure students are knowledgeable of the history of their country,” Sesso added, when told of the education department's latest plan. “And we can't be sure students know it, unless we have the exam results to show it.” 

Newsday readers also messaged their opinions.

“The dumbing down of educational standards in NY. Absolutely deplorable,” wrote Gabriele K. Libbey, a resident of Harbor Isle in Hempstead Town and a retired speech teacher. 

Rosa and other department officials have said that their plan, in addition to its impact on Regents exams, would encourage instruction in financial literacy and other subjects geared to prepare teens for adult life. Critics, including leaders of the social-studies group, have contended the shift would leave the state without a uniform means of measuring scholastic achievement in more than 600 districts across the state and 124 on the Island.

Officials expect to hold a series of public forums, then present a more detailed plan to Regents in November. There's no date for when this could be implemented. 

The plan already has won tentative endorsements from state-level school groups including unionized teachers, school-board representatives and superintendents.

Robert Lowry, deputy director of advocacy, research and communication for the New York State Council of School Superintendents, described Monday's report as “the next step toward translating that vision into actual specific changes.” He added his group would now canvass members to see if the state's recommendations “match their hopes and expectations.” 

In contrast, Ken Girardin, research director of the Empire Center for Public Policy, a fiscally conservative think tank, contended that academic achievement in New York was often mediocre, despite educational spending higher than that of any other state.

“The Regents are simultaneously failing students, employers and taxpayers,” Girardin added. 

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