The Regents: To Test or Not to Test - An Introduction
by Leslie Seifert - October 15, 2000A commentary on the new Regents Exams in New York
In the spring of 2000, for the first time, every high school
senior in New York State had to pass the English Regents exam to
graduate. The state plans to phase in examinations in other
subjects over the next several years, as part of an effort to
increase accountability and toughen standards. In May of 2000, the
state Board of Regents voted to grade every school publicly based
on the examination results.
Questions arise: Is the test fair? Is it leading to better
education? To better teaching? More learning? Better schools?
Newsday's Viewpoints section invited principals, teachers,
students and professors of education to contribute essays on
various sides of the testing issue. Ten essays were published in
June of 2000. They cover the following subjects:
- One English teacher finds that the Regents exams help students
to learn about writing or literature, while another says they lead
to formulaic thinking and rote performance. One says the exams
force her to teach for the test, but the other says they help
students take studying more seriously.
- Roger W. Bowen, president of the State University of New York
at New Paltz, says students in schools ranked low by the state will
be disadvantaged in gaining admission into college unless they can
offset the school's low ranking with high SAT scores. This will
send these students the wrong message: that SAT scores are more
important than their grade-point average.
- One high school senior finds the Regents exams limit what is
covered in classes; another says the exams can lift students
struggling with subject matter but hold back those who do very well
in school; a college sophomore says the exams help build study
skills needed for college.
- Linda Darling-Hammond, who chaired the New York State
Curriculum and Assessment Council and now is professor of education
at Stanford University, says that quality learning is being
trampled in the rush to tougher standards and that many low-scoring
students will be pushed out of school. "The system feels like one
big 'gotcha' that sets up failure."
- One principal says that the Regents exams are lifting
expectations for each child, rather than just the best students, as
was the case in the past. Another says that the exams actually keep
teaching and learning standards too low.
- Nathan Glazer, professor emeritus of education and sociology at
Harvard, writes that a high school diploma ought to mean something,
but that state tests should be adapted to fit different kinds of
students: college and non-college bound.
The entire collection of essays can be found
- Leslie Seifert
Leslie Seifert is an editor in Newsday’s Viewpoints section.