NY Schools Win Test Variance

K-12 Testing

By Martha Foote


Responding to pressure from the state legislature and activists, New York’s Board of Regents agreed to extend the New York Performance Standards Consortium’s variance from the state’s high-stakes Regents tests (Examiner, Fall 2001). The agreement will be finalized at the Board’s monthly meeting in July 2005.


A huge win for the Consortium, the variance extension allows the coalition of 28 high schools to continue using its own system of performance-based assessments over the next five years in lieu of four of the five mandated Regents tests. Consortium students must continue to take and pass the English Language Arts exam to graduate. The agreement is the first public recognition by the current Board of Regents of the legitimacy of performance assessment.


The victory comes after a protracted battle between the Consortium and Commissioner of Education Rick Mills, who has tried to phase out the variance since 2001. Mills maintained that the Consortium’s system was neither valid nor reliable. The Consortium, in turn, argued that its system led to better learning outcomes (such as college enrollment) for students than did comparable Regents test-driven schools.


Ironically, the settlement comes on the heels of yet another Regents test fiasco. Following intense teacher complaints, the state changed the scoring on the Math B Regents test. The day after the test was administered, the state added 5 points to each student's score.


Before the agreement was reached, a bill to extend the variance and compel the education department to develop performance assessments as a statewide alternative to the Regents tests appeared headed for victory. The Republican-controlled state senate passed the bill 51-9, despite lobbying efforts against the bill by Mills, New York City Mayor Bloomberg, and even the White House. As support for the bill grew in the state assembly with more than 50 members signing on as sponsors, Speaker Sheldon Silver (a Democrat), who stringently opposes the legislature’s intervention in education policy, persuaded members of the Regents to broker a deal.


The agreement halts the bill and therefore the extension of performance assessments to more schools. The Consortium is presently mapping a campaign to bring alternatives to all students and to end high-stakes testing in New York.


• Martha Foote is a researcher for the Consortium; www.performanceassessment.org