NY students allowed to graduate with lower test scores

New York public school students will continue to be allowed to graduate with lower test scores this school year thanks to a recent decision by state education officials.

The Board of Regents approved an amendment Tuesday extending a pandemic-era emergency policy that allowed kids to appeal failing Regents scores in order to get their diplomas.

“This sends the wrong message to students and families beginning one of the most important school years in recent history,” said Dia Bryant, executive director of Education Trust New York, a statewide policy and advocacy group.

More than 400 letters and a petition with 70 signatories were sent to the state opposing the measure, according to a rep for EdTrust, which led the campaign.

“The amendment continues a troubling trend by the Board of Regents to dilute graduation standards and raises serious concerns about whether our education system is preparing students for their postsecondary futures,” Bryant added.

The Board of Regents approved an amendment Tuesday extending a policy that allowed kids to appeal failing Regents scores to get their diplomas.
Corbis via Getty Images/Andrew Lichtenstein

The nonprofit urged the state to use COVID aid to better support students at risk of not graduating — “instead of making it easier to graduate.”

The state education department has pushed back on criticism that reworking graduation requirements — including by letting kids with failing Regents scores of at least 50 appeal –involves “lowering standards.”

At the same time as the vote, the state formed a 64-member commission, which includes Bryant, to consider updating permanent graduation protocols. 

New York's Board of Regents chancellor Lester Young Jr.
New York’s Board of Regents chancellor Lester Young Jr. speaks to members of the state’s Board of Regents.
AP/Hans Pennink

The group was formed to “explore what a state diploma should signify to ensure educational excellence and equity for every student in New York State,” according to officials.

“Our review of the state’s graduation measures is about ensuring all students are provided with the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and knowledge in the way that best suits them,” said Chancellor Lester W. Young, Jr. in a statement.

“This work is not about lowering standards, it’s about making sure the standards work for all our state’s students,” he added.

Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa called the step “a significant milestone” to evaluate readiness for high school graduation.

The commission — which starts meeting this fall and will connect “regularly” through spring 2024 — aims to develop recommendations to the Board of Regents of indicators that kids are ready for “college, career and civic life.”

The department has made several tweaks to rules around Regents exams since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, first canceling the standardized tests altogether in 2020. For the 2020-2021 school year, officials allowed kids to graduate without taking exams, and only required they pass their Regents-based course by the end of summer.

State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa
Betty Rosa serves as the State Education Commissioner.
AP/Will Waldron

Advocates who want to rework grad requirements note that New York is an outlier in requiring exit exams at all. About a dozen states administer high school graduation tests, the education news source Chalkbeat reported.

Meanwhile, the state Education Department has stated its belief that the tests can be used as “one of multiple measures of student achievement,” officials said.

New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks has called the exams “important,” but said that they play an “outsized role” in public education, at the expense of other learning and preparedness for adult life that’s harder to test.