Students, Educators, Parents Protest NY Regents Exams

K-12 Testing

Examiner Newsletter October 2003

At a series of legislative hearings in the early fall, students, educators, parents, measurement experts and other education reform activists, including FairTest, denounced the flaws, misuses and harmful consequences of New York State's Regents Exams.


Many speakers were members of the newly-formed Time Out From Testing network, whose director, Ann Cook, labeled the Regents "a failed system of assessing students." New York requires students to pass five Regents' exams to graduate.


Students rallied outside a New York City hearing before the Assembly Education Committee, and then presented eloquent testimony about the damage caused by the state's reliance on the tests. Many of the students attend schools that belong to the Performance Standards Consortium, a group of small public high schools that rely on classroom assessments and portfolios rather than standardized tests.


Jose Toledo of Satellite Academy described the use of performance-based assessment (PBA): "During the PBA process, we do large amounts of research, writing and revising papers until perfect, creating maps, debating ideas, taking exams and taking on other challenging tasks... PBAs helped me gain more skills, knowledge and self-confidence than cramming for a Regents exam ever could."


Erica Vazquez, also of Satellite, pointed out that many students are not passing Regents exams "because of the way some schools function." New York's highest court has found that the state inadequately funds education in New York City.


Julian Barr-DiChiara of Urban Academy described how the imposition of the Regents exams undermined a portfolio-oriented school he had previously attended. "At this school, the beginning of the Regents era meant many negative changes... [T]he history curriculum had to be changed to be 'test appropriate' which in turn allowed for less teaching of complex concepts and made it acceptable to just scratch the surface of an issue and move on. In-depth analysis in my previous high school was indeed a casualty of the Regents exam."


In part because of the protests, the Board of Regents, the states governing body for education, recently decided to keep the passing scores at 55 on each required test, rather than raise them to 65, as they had planned.


The Hearings
The legislative hearings were convened in response to a series of recent Regents exam fiascos:


o Flaws in the math test nearly denied graduation to thousands of students, and an absurdly hard physics test created a furor (see Examiner, Summer 2003).
o Literary texts were edited so ham-handedly that they became incomprehensible (see Examiner, Summer, 2002) - a problem "solved" by eliminating genuine literature from the reading passages.
o The low-quality exams do not assess what students really need to learn to succeed in college (see Examiner, Winter-Spring 2003).


FairTest Executive Director Monty Neill supported the students' testimony, pointing out that across the nation high-stakes testing has not led to educational improvement, but has increased dropout rates. Allowing tests to control classrooms will ensure the failure of education reform. He explained that there are better ways to assess, as illustrated by the students' descriptions of the performance-based schools. Some states, in contrast, are implementing better, fairer means of assessing student learning (see article on Maine and Nebraska, Examiner, Spring 2002, and on Rhode Island, Winter-Spring 2003).


Meanwhile, a state-appointed review panel blasted the Regents Math A exam. The panel explained that the exam was much more difficult than previous Regents math tests. The committee also released 22 detailed findings, including:


o the state's "Math A standards lack clarity and specificity";
o the test lacks a reasonable relationship to the standards;
o "the necessary support systems for students and teachers are not in place."
The Senate and Assembly committees may introduce legislation to make some modifications in the exams, though major changes do not appear imminent. One Regent has proposed an appeal system, such as exists in Massachusetts and Indiana.
For more information, including testimony and news clips:
oTime Out From Testing:;
o Performance Consortium:;
o Math A study