The Kingston City School District’s Board of Education last week approved a policy change relating to Regents exams taken during the 2021-22 school year that resulted in lower overall grades for 1,159 students.
Trustees voted at a School Board meeting October 19 to remove last year’s Regents results from any overall grade where it had a negative impact, but to keep counting Regents scores for any student who benefitted from its inclusion.
At the meeting, Superintendent Paul Padalino explained that while the New York State Education Department (NYSED) has long maintained that school districts shouldn’t include Regents exam scores in a student’s overall class performance, Kingston has a history of counting it as 15 percent of their final grade. The superintendent said that in the KCSD, even if a student failed the Regents, they would only fail the class if their overall grade was below a 65 percent.
Padalino said that due to the inconsistent nature of learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, he was tasked by the School Board with looking into how students performed on Regents exams last year, and what kind of impact it had on their overall grades. He discovered that only 395 students saw their overall grades improve when their Regents scores were factored in, with an additional 482 students seeing no change at all. The superintendent noted that the average overall grade fell 0.8 points with the Regents included, but that drop was reaching as many as 12 points. Conversely, the largest increase was seven points.
“The big picture is that on a grand scale there’s a small impact, but on a small scale there’s a large impact,” Padalino said.
In an interview the day after the School Board meeting, Padalino cited an example of how, due to the district’s overall Regents policy, two students who scored similarly were impacted in very different ways by the inclusion of their Regents scores.
“One student who had a 97 average in the class got a 65 on the Regents exam, and another kid in the same class got a 97 and got a 63 on the exam,” he said. “The kid who got the 65, their average went down four points, but the kid who got the 63 kept his 97.”
Alternative assessments possible
The Board of Education has yet to determine whether the Regents exam rule is permanent, in part because the nature of the tests is changing.
“At the state level, they’re revamping the Regents…and looking at alternative pathways to graduation other than getting Regents credit,” Padalino said. “The sit-down written test thing isn’t as viable or as bought into now by educators. We talk about experiential learning, we talk about all the hands-on stuff, and then we turn around and say, ‘Oh, by the way, at the end of the year you’ve got to take a two-and-a-half hour exam and fill in a bunch of bubbles.’”
Padalino added that he doesn’t expect the Regents to disappear entirely.
“They’ve been in New York since the beginning of time,” he said. “I think we may see other options come out of this, but there’s some kids who do really well at that kind of an assessment…I won’t say we’ll ever get rid of the Regents, but I think there’s going to be an alternative type of assessment that may take the place of it as an option of the student.”
During the School Board meeting, Padalino stressed that Kingston hasn’t been an outlier in factoring Regents scores into a student’s overall class grade, despite NYSED recommending they don’t.
“I think if we talked to 700 superintendents in the State of New York, I’d probably say 600 school districts are still using Regents exams,” he said. “And that (NYSED) recommendation has been around since I was a high school principal. I mean, that was 20 years ago.”
Padalino added that in conversations he’s had with other district superintendents across the state, the KCSD counting the Regents for 15 percent of a student’s overall grade has been on the low end of the spectrum.
“Many are 20 and 25 percent,” he said.
Trustees applauded the district’s process that led to the decision.
“I’ve been on the (School) Board for more than 16 years and I think that this is the really, almost the first time I’ve seen evidence presented in this way,” said James Shaughnessy. “Doing a deep dive into the data to see what the actual impact is.”