JOHNSTOWN — Students currently enrolled in grades seven through 12 who would have taken Regents exams in June will be exempt from taking the now canceled exams as part of their high school graduation requirements if they pass the related course, the state Education Department announced this week.
Due to the closure of schools statewide until at least April 29 following executive orders from Gov. Andrew Cuomo related to the coronavirus, the state Education Department on Monday announced the cancellation of Regents exams scheduled for June amid uncertainty over whether regular in-classroom instruction will resume this school year.
Guidance on modifications to requirements for students to graduate and earn their high school diplomas or credentials was released on Tuesday, exempting qualifying students who would have taken one or more Regents exams this spring from taking the assessments.
Students in grades seven through 12 are eligible for the exemption if they are currently enrolled in a course with an attached Regents exam and will earn credit in the course by the end of the current school year. Students currently enrolled in a Regents course who fail to receive credit by the end of the school year can receive the exam exemption by returning for summer instruction if they go on to receive course credit and are issued a diploma in August of this year.
Students who previously passed a course culminating in a Regents exam that the student initially failed and intended to retake this June will also receive the exemption.
Exemptions related to the cancellation of the June Regents exams will be accounted for when students currently enrolled in grades seven through 12 are seeking their high school diplomas. Examinations from which students were exempted will be excluded from any calculation used to determine eligibility for honors or mastery diplomas that normally require students to achieve an average of 90 or above on all required Regents exams.
“In times of crisis difficult decisions must be made and the Board of Regents knows these are ultimately the right ones for New York’s students,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa in a statement outlining the exemptions. “We are putting the safety of children, families and educators first, while ensuring that the hard work done by our students and teachers is honored. These are extraordinary decisions for an unprecedented time, and we thank our school communities for their support and continuing dedication during the statewide school closure.”
For local students who previously failed a Regents exam wondering if they are eligible for an exemption, HFM BOCES District Superintendent David Ziskin on Wednesday said students who passed a course and expressed their intention to retake an exam in June verbally, in writing, by receiving tutoring in preparation for an exam or by attempting to retake an exam the previous summer will be eligible for the exemption.
“They are leaving the door to the request open within reason,” said Ziskin, noting that it will be up to individual school districts to determine eligibility. “If it’s clear the student planned to take the exam, I don’t think there’s going to be lot of time and effort put into saying a student should not be exempted. These are really extraordinary circumstances.”
The state Education Department has also left it up to individual school districts to determine how to assess students at all levels, including those taking Regents courses, who are currently receiving remote instruction. Ziskin said HFM BOCES is currently facilitating conversations between school superintendents and administrators from throughout the region to develop individual approaches for grading students.
“We are having regional discussion about options and best practices around grading, but also around delivering remote instruction. It’s a new territory for all teachers. I think everyone’s getting better at it out of necessity and I think by discussing and collaborating districts may arrive at best practices,” said Ziskin.
Ziskin noted that each school district in the region will devise its own strategy for teaching and assessing students remotely as school closures continue, while pointing to the likelihood that districts will focus on determining whether students have demonstrated the learning outcomes required of a particular course.
“You may seem schools in the state continue with numeric grades, but there’s also been conversations about awarding credit on a pass, fail or incomplete basis,” said Ziskin. “The state Education Department is not directing schools to either utilize a letter, number or pass/fail for determining grades, that’s a local decision.”
How the shift to remote instruction and cancellation of Regents exams this June will affect students in the future is a conversation Ziskin said school districts will have to engage in moving forward.
“This is something we haven’t been faced with before, but it may be something that we’re faced with again so perhaps we need to use this as an opportunity to be prepared if there is another school closure of this nature so that we’re prepared for it in a way that we weren’t this time,” said Ziskin.
Ziskin acknowledged that school districts and higher education institutions may need to take steps in the future to account for possible gaps in knowledge among students currently receiving remote instruction.
“I think we’re going to have to assess and then address any gaps that may exist from unevenness that’s been occurring over the last month,” said Ziskin. “I think there may be some adaptations and changes that need to occur from institutions of higher education trying to assess the qualifications of students given the out of the ordinary circumstance that a large chunk of their academic career is now being conducted in.”
“I don’t think we have all of the answers right now,” he added. “I think the COVID-19 pandemic may serve as a tipping point for changes in areas that we haven’t even considered yet.”
In the short-term, Ziskin encouraged families to continue following social distancing protocol to slow the spread of the coronavirus while remaining engaged with remote instruction.
“These are difficult times and the highest priority should be to ensure everyone remains as safe and healthy as they can,” said Ziskin. “I encourage students to engage with remote resources provided by their home school districts to the greatest degree practicable so they can reenter school as prepared as they can be.”