The New York State Education Department (NYSED) earlier this month announced plans to cancel its January 2021 round of high-school Regents examinations due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. School districts typically pause high-school classes during Regents exams, but the cancellation of the January round of tests is causing school officials to consider changes.
Regents exams are statewide tests in core subjects designed to evaluate a student’s understanding beyond in-class grading. Ordinarily, students are required to pass the exams in order to earn a Regents diploma. NYSED is modifying assessment requirements with the tests canceled. Thus far, no details on changes to assessment requirements have been announced beyond transcripts for students meeting eligibility requirements in class being marked with an “E” for exempt.
The Regents exams were scheduled for the week of January 26-29. In a November 5 letter to superintendents across the state, education commissioner Betty Rosa announced the cancellation of January’s round of Regents exams due to safety concerns.
“As this school year has progressed and the dates for the administration of the January 2021 Regents Examinations have grown nearer, there remains much uncertainty as to when all secondary-level students in schools all across the state will return to fully in-person instruction,” Rosa wrote. “Consequently, we are cancelling the January 2021 Regents Examinations administration, as we cannot be certain that these examinations can be administered in a fair, equitable and safe manner for all secondary-level students and teachers across the State at that time.”
The fate of upcoming Regents exams has yet to be determined. “The department has not yet made decisions about the June and August 2021 administrations of Regents examinations or any of the other State assessment programs,” wrote Rosa. “The Board of Regents and the State Education Department will continue to monitor data related to modes of instruction amid the ongoing pandemic. When it is time to decide about these Regents examination and other state examination administration periods, those decisions will be fully informed by all available and relevant public health and educational data. And as always, we will put the health and safety of students and teachers first.”
How will January’s Regents cancellations impact local districts? As with most things, each has its own set of challenges. This is an update on them.
The Kingston schools website indicates that the district will hold class for high=school students the week the Regents were meant to be administered. “Typically, Kingston High School students would not have regular classes during a Regents week so that all students are free to take their exams,” reads the official notice. “Because all exams have been cancelled, Kingston will use our regular hybrid learning schedule, with Maroon students in-person on Monday and Tuesday and Gold students attending in-person on Wednesday and Thursday.”
Superintendent Paul Padalino said that the district was still awaiting clarification from NYSED about assessment adjustments, but school officials have their own ideas. “We have multiple methods of evaluation for our students,” Padalino said. “Local exams, bench mark assessments and teacher grading would be the best way to go.”
Padalino added that the pandemic hadn’t just impacted Regents exams and high-school students. Kingston is having to reevaluate how it measures student achievement and understanding for all grade levels. “We are behind our usual curriculum pacing,” he said. “Assessing the core and key skills and concepts has become more of a focus.”
Like other districts, Saugerties is planning to hold regular classes at Saugerties High during the week they’d planned to be closed for the Regents exams. Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt said that students in the high school will attend class accordingly, whether the district is hybrid or fully remote in late January.
Reinhardt said that one of the challenges with or without the Regents exams during the pandemic is ensuring they’re giving all their students the same opportunities for success. “We want to assess students equitably, whether they’re remote or in-person,” Reinhardt said.
The superintendent added that changing how to assess a student was already being discussed before the pandemic impacted standard in-school learning in mid-March, with the Regents being one piece in a very large puzzle. “Students are able to present their understanding of the curriculum differently, and we want to be able to accommodate that,” Reinhardt said.
Onteora superintendent Victoria McLaren said that the district was planning to address changes to the high-school schedule due to the Regents’ cancellation at its next remote school board meeting on Tuesday, November 24. “We will modify our calendar so that all of the days previously designated as Regents exam days will be normal attendance days,” McLaren said.
As in Kingston, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced Onteora to reevaluate not only high-school assessments, but virtually every aspect of education for students through all grades. “The pandemic has changed how we approach almost everything at this point,” McLaren said. “Remote learning has created a whole new paradigm for teaching and assessment. We have had to deeply reflect on how we assess student learning. We have a whole new host of tools at our fingertips. We have been able to increase formative assessment and drive instruction that better meets the needs of our students.”
Students concerned about how the cancellation of January’s Regents exams will impact them are encouraged to reach out to school officials. “I know that our high-school student government interacts with the high school principal, and if they have questions or concerns, they are always able to speak to principal [Lance] Edelman,” McLaren said.
New Paltz superintendent Angela Urbina-Medina could not be reached for comment, and the district’s official website does not address the cancellation of the January Regents exams.
The next remote workshop meeting of the school board in New Paltz is scheduled for Wednesday, December 2.