Removing Regents requirements would leave the state with uneven assessments.

Removing Regents requirements would leave the state with uneven assessments. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Board of Regents and state Department of Education officials are right to thoughtfully consider the changing needs of students, to assess coursework and graduation requirements, and to address questions surrounding testing and how we examine student — and teacher — success.

But the plan to eliminate passing scores on state Regents exams as a high school graduation requirement and instead let individual school districts set the measures is the wrong answer. Instead, the Regents should develop a strategy that doesn't do away with such critical measurements as required statewide testing, but adds alternatives for those who need them.

Yes, innovative projects and public service opportunities are good barometers. Yes, the arts, financial literacy and other areas of study not measured by Regents exams are key. And yes, the existing Regents tests aren't perfect. But that doesn't mean it's time to do away with standardized testing requirements, and their ties to graduation. The Regents should supplement, rather than replace, the required tests. Improve the exams, don't throw them away.

Removing Regents requirements would leave the state with uneven assessments, where each school district and each teacher evaluates students differently. There would be no adequate way to make comparisons. School districts could easily lower graduation standards so poor-performing students qualify, improving graduation rates and school performance without actually helping the students. There would be no check on inadequate teaching or bad administrations.

Also significant: Long Island taxpayers often buy their homes based on a school district's performance, paying top dollar for access to top schools. Subjective graduation assessments would make it difficult to determine how a district is really doing, leaving taxpayers in the dark. 

Another head-scratching development is that the Regents are considering a system where exams are offered but essentially mean nothing. Students would have to take English, algebra and science tests because federal law requires them, but they could fail them and it wouldn't affect graduation. Other exams — like history and government — would no longer be required, though they'd be available on an optional basis.

That's a shortsighted, nonsensical strategy.

State Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa told the editorial board Wednesday she sees schools as places where students should be motivated and engaged, where their passions are cultivated, where their “natural curiosity is not turned off.” She suggested that testing — and the anxiety it can provoke — damages that mission. Rosa said: “Life is not standardized.”

But some of life is, indeed, standardized. We take tests to drive a car, to operate machinery, to be licensed in certain jobs, even to become certified to teach. There should be uniform standards, measurements and requirements for students as well.

Testing doesn't have to come at the expense of creativity, passion or motivation. We must make sure our schools and teachers can cultivate both.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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