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New York cancels 2020 Regents due to distancing requirements

NEW YORK STATE — In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, public education systems across the state have risen to the challenge to ensure students maintain academic readiness outside of the classroom, as all New York schools are closed until at least April 29. Teachers in the Webutuck, Pine Plains and Millbrook Central School Districts have been working tirelessly to supply students with creative opportunities for distance learning. They’ve gotten positive responses from families watching their children continue their lessons miles away from their classrooms. As they work hard to maintain their academics during the school closures, students can breathe a sigh of relief now that the annual Regents exams scheduled for this June have been canceled due to the pandemic.

According to the website, www.schools.nyc.gov, the Regents exams are used to measure student achievement in high school-level courses. Students are required to pass five Regents exams in English Language Arts, math, science, social studies and any additional Regents exam or option approved by the state in order to graduate from high school. Though they can take the Regents exams when enrolled in grades nine through 12, students can also take the Regents exams after leaving high school to earn a Regents diploma. When appropriate, they may also take the exams in eighth grade.

Due to the health crisis and the statewide school closures that resulted from it, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) decided to cancel this year’s Regents exams on Monday, April 6. Likewise, NYSED modified the requirements students in grades seven through 12 must meet to earn their high school diplomas, credentials and endorsements.

In a letter sent out to state education personnel on Tuesday, April 7, NYSED Interim Commissioner Shannon Tahoe announced that students who originally intended to take one or more Regents exam will be exempted from the requirements. However, in order to qualify for the exemption, they must meet one of four eligibility requirements. Such requirements include if the student is currently enrolled in a course that will culminate in a Regents exam and will have earned credit in the course by the end of the school year; if the student is in seventh grade, enrolled in a Regents course and will have passed the course by the end of the school year; if the student is enrolled in a Regents course and failed to earn credit by the end of the school year; and if the student was previously enrolled in a course leading to an applicable Regents exam, achieved course credit and has not yet passed the Regents exam associated with the course but intended to take the exam.

“No student should be denied course credit or a high school diploma or otherwise penalized due to these extraordinary circumstances,” New York State School Boards Association Executive Director Robert Scheider said in a press release issued on April 7. “Guidance issued by the State Education Department focuses on ensuring learning outcomes and standards, rather than testing. In our view, that is the proper focus.”

In doing their best to move forward in these unprecedented times, superintendents across the Harlem Valley agreed that canceling the Regents exams was a wise idea.

“I think that it’s unprecedented — it’s never happened before that the Regents have been canceled — but I think the Regents made the right call,” Webutuck Superintendent of Schools Raymond Castellani said. “We don’t know what the next few months will hold with schools closing… and having students and teachers held accountable to take the Regents assessment with the school closures that have happened would be a difficult task, so I believe it’s a positive solution right now.”

“Given the amount of schoolwork missed, this was definitely the correct decision,” said Pine Plains Superintendent of Schools Martin Handler.

“These are certainly unprecedented times that we are experiencing,” said Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Pupil Personnel Services for the Millbrook Central School District Caroline Hernandez Pidala. “The cancellation of the Regents Assessments was the best way to combat equity issues across the state.  With 20 to 30% of the 2019-20 school year potentially being delivered remotely, there is no way to mitigate all of the obstacles to success that students may be facing outside of the schoolhouse walls.

“Education was intended to be ‘the great equalizer’,” Pidala continued, “and I think it was only fair for the Education Department to have cancelled assessments in a circumstance in which the equity gap is magnified.”

Though surprised by the change in events, students across the Harlem Valley said they were relieved to hear that the Regents exams were off the table.

Enrolled as a junior at Webutuck High School, Karlie Klingner said, “It’s kind of a shocker because you prepare all year for this, so it’s a change, but I’m kind of happy about it.”

At this time, NYSED has yet to make a decision about the Regents exams scheduled for this August.

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