New state rules allowing students to graduate with Regents exam scores as low as 50 are getting mixed reviews on Long Island, where many educators welcome the academic relief for students, while others warn against too much relaxation of standards.
Ordinarily, students must score 65 or higher to pass the three-hour exams, which are required for Regents diplomas. Most students pass at least four or five exams.
COVID-related disruptions of school schedules over the past two years have prompted education leaders to ease requirements through a series of test cancellations and waivers. Disruptions have included temporary quarantines of thousands of students and teachers.
The latest action, approved by the state's Board of Regents on May 16, allows local school superintendents to grant credit on appeals for students scoring between 50 and 64 on the exams. Waivers apply to tests due to be administered in June or August of this year, as well as in January, June or August of next year.
State authorities justified the waivers as an effort to level the playing field for students facing widely varying conditions in 700 districts across the state. That includes more than 120 systems in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Such conditions include different rates of COVID infections from one locality to another.
"The purpose of this expansion is to provide flexibility to students," said state Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa, who reports to the Regents. In a May 16 memo, she noted that grading policies are left largely to local districts, and that the state does not require scores from Regents exams to be included in students' course grades.
Still, a sizable number of educators contended that certain aspects of the new appeals policy sent the wrong message to students now prepping for exams that will begin on June 15. Critics include leaders of the Long Island Council for the Social Studies, representing about 1,000 administrators, teachers and others in the region.
"This has taken on the appearance of 50 being the passing score," said Gloria Sesso, co-president of the social studies group.
The state's "special appeal" rule is backed by the New York State United Teachers union, representing 600,000 teachers and other school employees across the state. Also in support is the New York State Council of School Superintendents, with members including more than 700 local schools chiefs and their deputies.
"We've been diligent in preparing students for Regents exams, but with the uptick in COVID rates, some students and teachers have had to take time off," said Lorna Lewis, top administrator in the Malverne district and a past president of the state superintendents organization. "So this temporary flexibility in scores is welcome, though I don't support it as a permanent solution."
Sesso and her colleagues acknowledged the need for some academic relief but questioned the state's action in extending waivers over a two-year period before determining how COVID rates will affect learning in 2022-23.
"I understand that we've been through a pandemic," said Sesso, a former administrator and teacher with more than 40 years' experience, now retired. "I understand that students haven't taken a history exam in two years, and they're going to need additional help. But try it out for one year, and see how it works and hold off for the second year."
Charles Backfish, a Stony Brook University director of a training program for social studies teachers, agreed, saying that waivers for one year made sense, but that the state went too far.
"What surprised me is that they extended that to the 2022-23 school year," said Backfish, who also serves as vice president of the Island's social studies council. "Hopefully, that year will be back-to-normal operations."
State education officials responded that the two-year waiver rule represented a "proactive" approach that lets districts know what to expect in the coming year.
The latest waivers, unlike earlier ones, apply to all types of students — not only those with disabilities or other disadvantages. To obtain exemptions, students must earn normal passing grades in their classes.
On the Island, the change in scoring created a buzz among educators, as it was announced both by the state Education Department and by regional networks. For example, the regional Eastern Suffolk BOCES messaged local districts in its area to advise that students had been granted temporary permission "to appeal to graduate with a lower score on a Regents examination."
HOW STUDENTS CAN APPEAL SCORES
- Under new state rules, students may appeal scores on state Regents exams any time before they graduate.
- To appeal, students must have earned scores of between 50 and 64 on the exam, and a course grade average equal to or above that required by the school.
- A committee comprised of the school principal, one additional administrator and three teachers reviews the appeal to determine if the student has demonstrated the knowledge and skills required. The committee does not include the teacher of the student making the appeal.
- The superintendent makes the final decision on whether an appeal should be approved or denied. Superintendents, in making a decision, may consider the recommendation of the committee or of the student's teacher, or any other evidence collected.