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Chancellor: High school graduation exams will be canceled, for now

In Nassau and Suffolk counties, many school administrators

In Nassau and Suffolk counties, many school administrators had pressed the state in recent weeks to reach a final decision on exam schedules. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

New York State's Regents exams, gatekeepers to high school graduation for more than 150 years, will be canceled due to the coronavirus crisis, a top education official said Monday.

Betty A. Rosa, chancellor of the state's Board of Regents, said during a teleconference of the policymaking group that a formal announcement of the cancellation of testing in June would be made Tuesday. Details also will be released at that time on how high schools and students across the state can adjust to the change in rules for earning diplomas, Rosa added.

"A good deal of work has gone into this," Rosa said of preparatory staff work at the state Education Department aimed at working out alternative approaches for students. She offered no other details. 

The chancellor's announcement was widely expected, and came around the same time Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced at his news conference that statewide school closings will be extended until at least April 29.

On March 20, the education department announced, amid shutdowns of schools on Long Island and elsewhere, that it was canceling tests in English Language Arts and math for more than a million students in grades 3-8. Agency officials said at the time they were reviewing the status of Regents exams as well. 

Most of this year's Regents exams had been scheduled between June 17 and June 25, a familiar year-end ritual for most students. The three-hour English exam, for example, is taken annually by about 240,000 students statewide, including 40,000 in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Since the 1990s, virtually all students wishing to graduate from high school have been required to pass four or five Regents exams in English, algebra, science, global history and U.S. history. Typically, students complete such testing by 10th or 11th grade, though many wind up retaking exams through the end of their senior year. 

Now that cancellation is certain, many other issues remain to be settled. 

"How will a student who hasn't completed all four or five exams meet the graduation requirement?" said Lorna Lewis, superintendent of Plainview-Old Bethpage schools. "That's the critical thing." 

Lewis, immediate past president of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, said one option for the state might be allowing superintendents to waive some testing requirements for students who passed at least three state exams, along with all their courses.

One parent leader, Bonnie Buckley of Bellport, said parents of students with disabilities were asking if their teenagers might have to retake some courses, in preparation for Regents exams in 2021. 

"If they're passing courses this year, then exams should be waived forever," said Buckley, organizer of a statewide group called Multiple Pathways to a Diploma for All Students. 

In Nassau and Suffolk, many school administrators and parent leaders had pressed the state in recent weeks to reach a final decision on exam schedules, noting test prep instruction was especially difficult to deliver online with all schools shuttered. 

The state's last mass cancellation of exams occurred in 1974, when administration of nine tests was suspended, following the discovery that some students had obtained answer sheets in advance and sold them.

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