Pandemic Prompts Regents Examinations Cancelation

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Board of Regents has canceled the Regents exams, with the exception of four subjects as a federal requirement.

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The Board of Regents announced the cancelation of all Regents exams this school year with the exception of four subjects—English, Algebra I, Earth Science, and Living Environment—on March 15. The four tests will be administered in person this June.

In compliance with New York State graduation requirements, public school students must pass five Regents exams: one English Language Arts (ELA), math, science, and social studies, as well as an additional exam in another subject. Under normal circumstances, New York State would offer Regents exams in 10 subject areas. Freshmen would take the Geometry Regents, sophomores would take the Chemistry, Global History and Geography, and Algebra II Regents, and juniors would take the Physics and English Regents if not taken in previous years. This year, the only exams that will be administered are those necessary to fulfill the federal requirement to test students at least once in ELA, math, and science.

Many teachers were unsurprised by the cancelation. “We were all expecting it to happen. We were just anxious for them to make a decision and communicate it as quickly as possible,” Assistant Principal of Mathematics Eric Smith said in an e-mail interview.

While non-AP core classes at Stuyvesant are structured to prepare students for the Regents, many teachers believe the cancelation will have little impact on how these classes are conducted. “Students at Stuy[vesant] are motivated by more than a Regents exam, and I believe that teachers at Stuy strive to make their classes more meaningful than just Regents exam preparation,” Smith said.

Math teacher Patrick Honner considered the possibility of the exams being canceled this spring but believes that students are prepared to excel regardless. “It’s always our goal to teach beyond Regents-level mastery, and that’s still true this year even under unusual circumstances. We want students to be successful in math this year, but we also want to make sure they are prepared to succeed next year and beyond,” Honner said in an e-mail interview.

With the majority of Regents canceled, many middle school teachers who teach Regents-level classes feel less pressure from having to fit the curriculum and test prep into the school year. “It felt like we were just rushing through the curriculum a lot with the Regents hanging over our heads. Whereas I feel like now that it’s been canceled, we can maybe focus a little bit more on quality instruction rather than just rushing to get everything done,” Talented and Gifted for Young Scholars social studies teacher Emily Lake, who teaches U.S. History, said.

Chemistry teacher Kristyn Pluchino expressed a similar sentiment. “I’m really relieved because usually, you have to set aside time to help students review for the Regents,” she said. “I feel like this semester, the pace has already been really quick, so I’m glad that I don’t have to carve out a couple of weeks for review. We get to slow down on the topics, delve into more challenging topics, and give students a chance to practice and feel like they really understand the material.”

In addition to teachers, many students felt relieved upon hearing about Regents cancelations. “I’m a little glad that we don’t have to take as many just because of how difficult learning has been during the pandemic,” freshman Chloe Tom said in an e-mail interview.

With the cancelation, some teachers have reflected on possible improvements for the exams. “I don’t think the Regents should be gone forever, but I think it would be a good time to re-evaluate how we structure the exam and how much information we put on the exam,” Lake said.

Others, however, are against the standardized nature of these exams and their presence in students’ education. “The insufficiency of the exam and the inequity of the system were incredibly obvious from the huge range of performance on the exam across the city. Not all schools have the same resources that Stuy does, and there are schools that have even more than Stuy,” English teacher Lauren Stuzin said. “If schools could decenter standardized forces like Regents or Advanced Placement [exams], they could focus more on teaching directly to the students in those schools and [be] more in accordance with what those particular students need, not what the state arbitrarily decides is good or right or needs to be learned.”

In addition to fulfilling graduation requirements, Regents exams would traditionally be factored into students’ final second semester average in certain classes at Stuyvesant, such as Geometry. Usually, the Regents score accounts for a large portion of a student’s final grade during the second semester, though the weight of said scores is up to the department and/or teacher.

However, there is still some uncertainty as to whether there will be modifications to make up for the lack of Regents at the end of second semester. “I can’t speak for other departments, but this is definitely something that the math department has been discussing and will continue to discuss,” Smith said.

For ARISTA’s District 1 Pilot Program in collaboration with PS/MS 34 and BELL Academy, ARISTA tutors will continue to prepare eighth grade students for the Living Environment and Algebra I Regents. “Our weekly after school classes have remained the same, with tutors going over practice problems from previous Regents exams to reinforce the concepts and using other online resources in collaboration with the students’ teachers to make each session meaningful and rewarding for our students,” ARISTA President and senior Emma Donnelly said. “Our program is designed to encourage learning for the pursuit of understanding rather than solely for a number grade on an exam.”

Despite the uncertainty and mixed emotions, many are optimistic that the cancelation is to the students’ benefit. “This year, everyone needs to be cut a little bit of slack [...] Hopefully, this makes June a little easier for everyone. It has been a long haul since March,” Pluchino said. “Thank you [students] for hanging in and doing all the little things and being responsible and on top of your work. I’m looking forward to being back in the building.”