Timeline of New York State Regents Test Fiascoes
Spring 1996 The newly appointed New York State Education Commissioner, Richard Mills, wins approval from the Board of Regents to overhaul the Regents testing system. New high-stakes Regents graduation exams, required of all public high school students, will be introduced. The local diploma option and the RCTs (Regents Competency Tests) will be abolished. The first new test, the English Language Arts (ELA) exam, will be a graduation requirement for the Class of 2000. By 2003, all New York State public school students will be required to pass 5 high-stakes Regents exams to graduate. During the phase-in period, individual school districts can elect to pass students with a score of 55. In addition, new state 4th and 8th grade tests will be administered annually in language arts, math, science and social studies.
Despite pressure from Commissioner Mills, New York State private schools reject the use of the new Regents tests, claiming that it would be an intrusion on their autonomy to set standards and develop rigorous curricula.
The January 2000 ELA exam contains an arcane passage by Roger Ascham, a 16th century scholar, with Old English words and phrases. Critics condemn the test as an invalid measure of English Language Arts. ELA becomes graduation requirement.
Commissioner Mills convenes panel to determine whether the variance from Regents testing held by the New York Performance Standards Consortium since 1995 should be continued.
Teachers complain that New York State's scoring system for the new Regents exams in English Language Arts and Global History and Geography is too lenient because it allows students to pass even if they do extremely poorly on the essay sections.
The New York Times, The Albany Times-Union, and Education Week each report that in an attempt to raise state test scores, schools across New York State have replaced rich and stimulating curricula with dull and repetitious test preparation classes. Principals and teachers are compelled to make these changes against their professional judgment.
Commissioner Mills rejects the recommendation of his own Blue Panel of testing experts that the New York Performance Standards Consortium be given three more years to administer its performance-based assessment system while a study is conducted on its validity and reliability. Mills asserts that the system does not sufficiently measure the New York State standards.
Component retesting -- makeup exams, given to students who have twice failed either the math or ELA, with at least a score of 48 -- is introduced by the State Education Department. It allows students to take a test in just the content/skills areas in which they are weak. Commissioner Mills and the Board of Regents see the retests as a way to help students graduate. Critics see the retests, which require short answers instead of essays or long problems, as lacking high standards. They are decried as a gimmick to alleviate public outcry over failure rates.
The Class of 2001 must pass the ELA and math exams to graduate high school. A growing number of NYC teachers refuse to teach the fourth grade, saying that they cannot bear the pressure of preparing students for the high-stakes state tests that have become a defining feature of that grade. Fourth-grade teachers additionally report that the intense, often single-minded focus on testing has taken an emotional toll on their students by intolerably increasing their stress levels.
The vice president of the New York State United Teachers, Antonia Cortese, voices concerns over the scoring procedures on the Regents exams. She expresses these concerns after science teachers across the state question the scoring of the June 2002 Biology Regents exam, claiming that the test was much easier to pass than in past years. They also question the lack of rigor in the new Living Environment Regents exam. (The Biology and Living Environment exams are the ones most commonly used to meet the science graduation test requirement.)
A study prepared for the New York State Education Finance Research Consortium (a partnership involving the New York State Education Department, the New York State Board of Regents, and education researchers) is released. The study, "Adoption and Adaptation: New York State School Districts' Responses to State Imposed High School Graduation Requirements," cautions that schools are moving students at-risk of high school failure into GED programs as a way to count them as "transfers" and not "dropouts."
The New York Times reports a growing concern that the New York State Education Department is manipulating test scores to get its desired results. Commissioner Mills admits that the bar was deliberately set high for the 8th grade. For example, "to meet state standards" at grade level in math this year, 8th graders had to achieve a much higher minimum score on the 8th grade test than 4th graders had to achieve on the 4th grade test .
The Class of 2002 must pass the ELA, math, Global History and Geography, and US History exams to graduate high school.
Advocates for Children of New York and The New York Immigration Coalition release the report "Creating a Formula for Success: Why English Language Learners are Dropping Out of School, and How to Increase Graduation Rates." The report documents the harm of the ELA Regents exam to English Language Learners, citing the escalating dropout rate for ELL students in NYC.
An alliance of literary, parent, education and civil rights organizations releases a report on the censorship of literary works in the ELA Regents exam since its introduction in June 1999. Despite Commissioner Mills' vow to end censorship in the ELA Regents exam, the June 2002 exam has censored passages. Mills claims there was not enough time to fix the June exam, but promises that passages in the August exam will not be edited.
A study prepared for the New York State Education Finance Research Consortium (a partnership involving the New York State Education Department, the New York State Board of Regents, and education researchers) is released. The study, "How Have Performance Standards Changed School District Practice? Results from a Statewide Survey of New York State School Districts," asserts that the high-stakes Regents exams have had the unintended consequences of increasing GED and dropout rates.
State education officials agree to let high school students retake the Physics Regents exam following a firestorm of complaints that the scoring of the new test, introduced in June, was too difficult. However, Commissioner Mills says the results on the June test will stand. He refuses to change the scores after determining the test is "sound" and the scoring "accurate." Students who take the test twice will have both scores on their transcripts. Statewide, 33% failed the test, up from 11% in 2001. (The Physics exam is taken by students who have previously passed a Regents science test, therefore these students will not be denied a high school diploma.)
Teachers question the scoring of the June 2002 Chemistry Regents exam, claiming that it was much more difficult to pass than in previous years.
Censored passages are found in the August 2002 ELA Regents exam.
The Public Advocate for the City of New York and Advocates for Children release a report, "Pushing Out At-Risk Students: An Analysis of High School Discharge Figures," on the pushout problem in NYC schools. The report claims that tens of thousands of students are illegally discharged from high school each year so that schools can shed potential dropouts and Regents test failures, thus boosting their schools' overall scores and records.
Censored passages are again found in the January 2003 ELA Regents exam. This makes the third time in a row that Mills has broken his vow.
The New York Times carries an investigative article on the construction of the June 2002 Physics Regents exam. Teachers who worked for the State Education Department to set the passing score claim the SED overrode their recommendation, deliberately making the test harder to pass.
The Class of 2003 must pass the ELA, math, Global History and Geography, US History, and science exams to graduate high school. Data shows that graduation rates in New York State have declined steadily since 1998. New York State now ranks 45th in the nation in the number of students graduating from high school.
After a public outcry over the unprecedented failure rate of the June 2003 Math A Regents, Commissioner Mills nulls the test for juniors and seniors. Mills' decision allows local school authorities to determine passage based on a student's course grades, thereby allowing thousands of seniors to graduate. Early results show that only 37% of students passed, compared to 61% in June 2001. Mills convenes an independent panel of mathematicians to review the exam.
Parents and teachers question the June 2003 Physics Regents test for a second time after huge numbers of students fail.
Assistant Education Commissioner Roseanne DeFabio resigns amidst the criticism of recent Regents exams, including the Math A Regents test.
The Math A Regents panel issues an interim report. The panel recommends the test be re-scored for the sophomores and freshmen, raising their scores significantly. The panel expresses grave concerns about the test, e.g., its alignment with state standards, its level of difficulty in particular sections and its wordiness.
After more than a year of assurances that the new Physics Regents exam is fundamentally sound, the state launches a hurried inquiry into whether the test should be revised in response to soaring student failure rates.
The New York State Senate holds a hearing on the Regents exams.
Time Out from Testing is founded. A coalition of parents, teachers, and administrators urge a "time out on tests" and a comprehensive review of the Regents exams and the impact they are having on New York State's children, communities and economy. Time Out from Testing holds a news conference and offers data on how the Regents are punitive and are being misused, and are causing more and more students to drop out or be pushed out of school.
Time Out from Testing holds a news conference to highlight the disparate impact of the exams on minority students.
The Math A Regents panel issues a final report.
The New York State Assembly holds a hearing on the Regents exams.