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Regents Cancelled, Again. How about forever?

December 23, 2021 am31 12:36 am

I wanted to write two things about yesterday’s cancellation of the January 2022 Regents. If you didn’t see it, Betty Rosa wrote that due to hardship around the pandemic the exams were being cancelled. Kids who were passing the class, and needed the exam, would get waivers. You can click the link above to get more details.

So there were two responses I had.

The first Arthur already wrote about. It is hard, sitting in a New York City school, to imagine that cancelling Regents increases safety. Many of our schools have for months essentially had no precautions, except masking. Social distancing? Three-foot social distancing is meaningless, and the DoE was fine with violating even that where not possible. Contact tracing? In high schools the city was ruling that almost no one counted as a contact. Testing? Tiny numbers, and huge exclusions. It was designed to be able to say “we are testing” – not to keep us safe. So how will cancelling exams keep us safe, when basic measures are not in place?

The second is important. The Regents exams have become lousy exams. Maybe they always were, but now they definitely are.

Regents exams measure the knowledge learned in a course. Or they measure readiness to graduate from high school. Or both. Or neither. I don’t know. No one does. We give them because we always gave them, and we don’t worry about why.

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Regents exams guarantee that teachers do a good job preparing students. Well, no. Regents Exams squeeze the curriculum in many places. Teachers are pressured to teach to the test. And avoid teaching interesting things that the State will not test. Much of the best stuff I teach I can only teach by avoiding Regents material (a luxury many teachers do not have), or by teaching non-Regents classes.

Even if Regents force teachers to teach to the test, at least they force them to teach to a good test. Well, no. Regents exams are lousy. Not uniformly. Math exams I have written extensively about = they started a rapidly downward spiral two decades ago, and have not improved. ELA, History, Science exams – all are bad in their own way. But I remember teachers when I started in 1997 talking about NY State Regents exams as some sort of national gold standard. They were exaggerating, at best. But no one would make that claim today, not without being met by snickers.

These are pointless exams, with content that doesn’t make sense to be tested, with bad questions, with weird scoring. They are important to rating teachers (in a clearly wrong way) and to stressing kids. Most colleges don’t care. And teachers, given the choice, would be better able to assess their students by themselves.

Losing another Regents administration is good (we lost June 2020, August 2020, January 2021, June 2021 – did we lost August 2021? – and now January 2022. Our current high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors have been spared them so far. Why would anyone want them back? OK, there are a few possible answers. But what good reason does anyone have for bringing them back? They have long outlived any value they may have once had.

I am glad January Regents are cancelled. We should be advocating permanently eliminating New York State Regents Exams.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sean Ahern permalink
    December 23, 2021 am31 10:07 am 10:07 am

    Content area assessments require some agreement on what is important to that area. Isn’t that important if you want a democracy where the people share a basket of skills and basic understandings in common? Doesn’t this provide the foundation for critical thinking, debate and consensus? Whatever NYSED has done to the Regents can be undone without locking down secondary education into a dreary conformity or throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    • December 23, 2021 pm31 12:02 pm 12:02 pm

      Agreement about what should be taught does not require state tests.

      For New Yorkers the questions are twisted together – it may take some imagination to understand how they might be separated – but it is well-worth investing in that imagination.

      Can we think about teaching where students have a say in determining whether or not they have learned something? Can we rethink grading – so that it supports students instead of punishing them? Can we separate learning from testing? Can we assess without testing?

      And what role, what say, should the students in the classroom and the teacher in the classroom have in what is being taught, and in measuring how much has been learned?

      I do not anticipate any need to lock down education into dreary conformity – but that is part of what the Regents exams do. And as far as the baby and the bathwater – state standardized tests are nobody’s baby.

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