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Regents board won't assure all tests will survive cuts

Wheatley High School teacher Faith Toperoff talks to

Wheatley High School teacher Faith Toperoff talks to her English class. (March 17, 2007) Photo Credit: Newsday File / Jack McCoy

ALBANY - In the face of teachers' stunned reaction to suggestions that Regents exams might be scrapped, the head of the state Board of Regents insisted Monday there was no intent to eliminate a historic testing system still used to enforce minimum academic standards for hundreds of thousands of students.

Merryl Tisch of Manhattan, chairman of the state Board of Regents, added that she and other state education officials might have erred in not discussing contemplated cuts in Regents exams before posting them on an official Web site late last week.

Still, neither Regents nor other education officials issued any assurances Monday that all 16 of the state's high school exams would survive the latest round of proposed budget cuts.

To the contrary, several authorities, including Education Commissioner David Steiner, continued to hint that some exams might be cut unless the department gets more money from Gov. David A. Paterson and state lawmakers struggling to close a budget deficit.

Several lawmakers including Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) warned it would be a mistake to cut Regents exams but agreed money is going to be tight.

The posted memo lists 13 Regents exams that might be scrapped. This would leave only exams in English, algebra and living environment as graduation requirements.

"I can't see the state at this juncture backing away from a testing system like the Regents that has been a factor in the state's success," Tisch said.

Tisch spoke following a standing-room-only Regents meeting, where the exams' fate was a prime discussion topic.

The memo touched off a firestorm of criticism from teachers in fields such as American history and foreign language who might lose exams. Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents Long Island on the Regents board, said he received at least 100 messages over the weekend from cut opponents.

Representatives of the New York State United Teachers union voiced dismay no one had discussed contemplated cuts with them. "We should at least have had a heads-up," said Maria Neira, vice president of the organization that represents more than 600,000 teachers and other school workers.

Speculation was widespread here that Steiner and his senior deputy, John B. King Jr., who are new to their jobs, might have underestimated public reaction to the potential cuts.

Monday, Steiner pledged that the exams issue would be thoroughly discussed before any action was taken. No exams would be eliminated before lawmakers adopt next year's budget - a process not expected to be completed until April 1 at the earliest. Most Regents tests are given in June.

Steiner added that publicity had its intended effect, alerting the public his agency is running short of money. By next year it projects $88.9 million in operational costs, but only $77.4 million in revenues.

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