The NYS Board of Regents has allowed districts to determine how they wish to calculate the high stakes Regents exams into the student GPA. As stated in an NYSED memo, NYSED “does NOT require OR RECOMMEND that schools use Regents examination grades as part of the calculation of the student’s final average.”
NYC public schools students have NEVER had these exams factored into their GPA. That’s one million NYS public school students. Yet here in the suburbs, the practice of not only factoring them in but at an astounding 20%, is widespread. Some have reduced that to 5-15%, but very few have been courageous enough to go all the way. Why? Some say “past practice” which is just another way of saying “we’ve always done it that way and are afraid to change.” For some districts, the practice is held onto by administrators who falsely believe that making a test higher stakes will result in higher scores and since high exam scores are a status symbol for administrators, the lure is great. The biggest lobbying group for this shortsighted policy comes from an unlikely source – the local teacher unions, who usually stand beside us fighting for lowering the stakes on standardized assessments. Many districts here on LI have explored the options to reduce the impact of Regent assessment grades on GPA or eliminate them altogether. Two districts have succeeded through strong leadership: Bellmore-Merrick CHSD and Comsewogue. One district passed the “do no harm” policy, only to be threatened by a lawsuit from the union, forcing them to reverse course and continue with higher stakes on the exams.
Fears of students tanking the exams, not studying or preparing, and “gaming the system” are all reasons cited by groups lobbying to maintain high stakes. For districts that pass such a policy, these fears have not been realized.
What HAS happened, however, is that students have just a little bit of stress taken off their shoulders.
In this new heightened world of anxiety, mental health concerns, depression, and social stressors, this is one small thing that has helped immensely. Students don’t go into the exams anxious and stressed; in many cases, this factor alone has led to better performance. They go in to do their best, but with the understanding that the exam won’t break them if they don’t perform well that day. The argument of “teaching them everything they do counts” is flawed. Instead, the lesson should be this is YOUR life, YOUR grades, YOUR responsibility. We’re not talking about things counting.
As parents try desperately to navigate these HS years that have become a minefield of anxiety for their kids and attempt to find reasonable changes that could balance the scales, we need teachers to understand that this policy shift won’t make their teaching less meaningful. It will make it more. We’re saying that we value what students do for 180 days in their class, rather than three hours on a state exam.
*We’re saying that we don’t want Regents classes to revolve around these assessments, but rather the content and the learning experience they can gain throughout the year when classes are instead taught to the child.
*We are saying that we will partner with you on classroom management, rather than an assessment being used for that purpose.
*We believe our children will rise to the occasion even without a looming threat of grade destruction from a single exam.
Other districts have waded into the unknown first so that those fears can be proven unjustified. Now it’s time for a change, and parents, you need to lead that change. There is a saturation of talk in schools of mental health and helping our kids find a balance. If districts aren’t just talking the talk but actually want to make this a priority and take action, a “do no harm” policy should be implemented in every school. Parents, these are your schools, your districts, and your children. These are your voted in Boards of Education. Make noise and be loud. Do not take no for an answer. Get organized and get others on board. There is no force stronger in a school district than the thousands of parents all working together to improve policies for their children. For once, the State Education Department isn’t standing in our way. Only we are.