Bridgehampton School sixth-grader Marcus Miller was included in an accelerated class...

Bridgehampton School sixth-grader Marcus Miller was included in an accelerated class attended mostly by eighth-graders. "We're glad that we can support him in following his path," Bridgehampton Superintendent Mary Kelly said. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

A growing number of advanced sixth-graders on Long Island and elsewhere could be taking algebra courses typically taken by ninth-graders, under new rules approved Tuesday by the state's Board of Regents.

The rules change, which requires a federal waiver, would allow students as early as sixth grade to enroll in classes culminating in Regents exams, as long as their districts permit it. As an incentive, sixth-graders who take algebra exams would be exempted from easier sixth-grade math tests normally required by federal law. 

This year, three districts on Long Island — Bridgehampton, Half Hollow Hills and Syosset — have sixth-graders taking algebra classes, according to state records. Those systems are among 16 statewide providing such services.

Bridgehampton's superintendent, Mary Kelly, said that a local sixth-grader, Marcus Miller, age 11, had shown a special affinity for math and was included in an accelerated class attended mostly by eighth-graders.

"I think it's a great opportunity that allows for additional flexibility in meeting students' needs," Kelly said. "We're glad that we can support him in following his path." 

A student in ninth-grade algebra class at Center Moriches High...

A student in ninth-grade algebra class at Center Moriches High School uses a calculator to help solve practice questions for a Regents exam. Credit: Heather Walsh

Half Hollow Hills has four sixth-graders enrolled in algebra, the largest number for any district in the state. The district's math director, Ian Dunst, said the usual approach there was to accelerate qualified students into algebra classes as eighth-graders — about 50% of such students accelerate in this way. 

In this case, however, several younger students had transferred to Half Hollow Hills from an independent school and were prepared to handle Regents-level work. For that reason, Half Hollow Hills decided that placement in algebra was appropriate for those students, according to Dunst. 

"It's a matter of following up on the education that incoming students have and providing them with appropriate placement," Dunst said. 

A federal law, adopted in 2001, requires annual testing in English and math for all students in grades three through eight. Traditionally, the law tended to discourage acceleration of students to a degree, because it resulted in double-testing — first, with grade-level tests given in April and May, and later, with Regents exams administered in June.

Double-testing has been modified in recent years, however, through a series of federal exemptions. Last month, the U.S. Department of Education granted New York State permission to use Regents math exams in lieu of easier math tests for sixth- and seventh-graders, and to use Regents science exams in lieu of easier science tests for seventh- and eighth-graders.

Such students are required to take more advanced exams in high school. 

Jason Harmon, a deputy state education commissioner, told Regents that expansion of testing waivers in grades six and seven "will provide exceptionally advanced middle school students with additional opportunities to participate in high school-level coursework."

"Without a continuation of this waiver, many students will lose the opportunity to participate in advanced course work during middle school," Harmon added in a memo.

Both on the Island and statewide, more middle school students in recent years have been signing up for math and science courses and exams previously given mostly in high schools. Harmon reported, for example, that 959 seventh-graders in 2018-19 took Regents exams in math in lieu of grade-level math tests statewide. The same was true for 51,964 eighth-graders.

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