By Carol Boyd
In July of 1864, the New York State Legislature enacted an ordinance that created the Regents Examination system. The very first exam was given in November of 1869. It was the Legislature’s intent that the exams would not only assess student achievement, but also provide more funding to the schools with higher pass rates.
Fast forward 142 years and not much has changed, except that in an effort to be penny wise it appears that the New York State Board of Regents’ decision to eliminate administering Regents Exams in January may result in being pound foolish. It is anticipated that not offering winter exams will save $1.4 million. The State also expects to save an additional $700,000 by eliminating all foreign language Regents exams to recapture a total savings of $2.1 million dollars.
In 2007-08 (the most recent year for which data is available) NY State per pupil expenditure was $17,173. In 2010, there were 360 students in NYC that graduated mid-year after taking January exams. Using 2007 cost data, were these students to remain in school for an additional semester to take June exams, the cost for NYC alone would be in excess of $3 million. The alleged savings from eliminating the January exams is fuzzy math and, in the words of Chancellor Dennis Walcott is “a decision that undermines the hopes of high school students who take courses and exams to graduate mid-year.”
According to John Wenk, Principal of Lower Manhattan Arts Academy (LoMA), a successful small performing arts school: “For LoMA, it destroys our strategy of putting the English Regents in January, allowing the interdisciplinary class to focus on the English Regents in January and on the US History Regents in June – a key to our tremendous success on these two tests. On a larger scale, many, many more students will not graduate citywide as the January Regents is the best shot the seniors have to pass any remaining Regents. In junior year, the most vulnerable students say to themselves, ‘it does not matter, I’ll make it up next year’. In June, the stress of a test the day before graduation overrides them and few students are able to sufficiently focus in August. If everything is going well for kids and they are making adequate progress, losing the January Regents is no big deal, but for the weakest students, it is a real problem.”
Moreover, eliminating exams in foreign language will prevent many students from being able to obtain a Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation, which for most students requires successful completion of 6 credits of a language other than English. Over the next two weeks, my 10th grader will have to pass three Regents Exams to stay on track for graduation. In order to take Advanced Placement or college courses, he has no choice but to pass all of them on the “first take”, and having studied Spanish since middle school he feels very shortchanged. How can we expect students to achieve their potential and succeed if the entities responsible for ensuring they’re receiving a quality education continually undermine them? Why, as schools struggle with increased pressure to raise graduation rates, must they also grapple with reduced opportunities for students to graduate?
We must not allow the State or Mayor Bloomberg to balance their budgets on the backs of our school children. Shortchanging them today will only lead to the rest of us being shortchanged tomorrow.