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Fear of too much failure driving standards

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia speaks with students

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia speaks with students in the new media room during a visit to Baldwin High School on March 24, 2017. Credit: Steve Pfost

In 2010, politicians found it easy to approve tougher education standards in New York. They’ve since learned it’s a lot harder to raise student performance, because parents and educators will not let rigorous requirements rule if it means more students will fall short of the goals.

Early this month, as parents and teachers worried higher standards would have negative impacts on kids and careers, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia dropped plans to raise the passing scores on English and math Regents tests. That’s understandable, but disappointing. The state must determine what score indicates students have mastered the knowledge appropriate to their grade level. And that’s not the factor driving this change.

Students need a 65 on the tests to earn Regents diplomas. The new plan would have raised that to 75 for English and 80 for math, starting with the graduating class of 2022. It’s a big issue now because advanced members of that class would have taken algebra next year in eighth grade (a smaller number are taking it now in seventh), and teachers needed to know the cut score to decide which kids to put in the class.

The state’s tests and curriculum standards are still being revised in the wake of the uproar over all the changes since 2010. State education officials say the final, new standards will be presented next month, new tests will follow those, and the higher passing scores on Regents exams could be implemented in three or four years. Maybe so. But right now there is little willingness to raise the bar if it means kids will fail to clear it. And that doesn’t seem to be changing.

— The editorial board