January Regents exams canceled

Sophie Grosserode
New York State Team

‘Only fair thing to do’ and ‘significant lift’ off overburdened teachers, say local superintendents

The January Regents exams will be canceled since they can’t be administered safely and fairly, Interim State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa announced today Thursday.

Howard Dennis
Kelly Houck

New York high school students who were scheduled to take Regents exams in January 2021 will receive the same exemptions that were granted for the June and August exams, which were also canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under normal circumstances, students have to pass at least five Regents exams to earn a diploma. But with another round of exams canceled, students taking courses this semester that would ordinarily culminate with a Regents exam will be eligible to get full credit for the course without taking the state exam.  

Instead of a numerical score, students’ transcripts will bear an “E” for exempt, according to a memo sent to district superintendents.

“The State Education Department decision to cancel the January Regents Exams was really the only fair thing to do,” says Penn Yan School Superintendent Howard Dennis. “With tests being created well before they are given and to hold our students under the current conditions to the same standard as the students from two or three years ago would be unfair. Our staff continues to work diligently to deliver as much of the curriculum as possible under the current conditions. Our students continue to receive a high-quality education.”

Dundee School Superintendent Kelly Houck commented, “The announcement by NYSED canceling the January Regents provided the school district the opportunity to focus all attention where it should be, addressing the learning and achievement gaps for students as a result of significant disruptions in their education associated with extended school closure periods. Not having to worry or devote any concern or attention to these exams has provided a significant lift off from our already incredibly busy teachers’ plates.”

Rosa stated, “Throughout the pandemic, our priority has been the health and well-being of our students and educators. We determined the January Regents Exams could not be safely, equitably, and fairly administered across the State given where the pandemic currently stands.”

The state has not yet made decisions about the upcoming June and August Regents exams or the other state assessments administered in the spring, all of which were canceled last school year.

State Education Department officials said at the Oct. 19 Board of Regents meeting that it would not be possible to give any state tests remotely. Though nothing has been decided, officials said, they will cancel any assessments that cannot be administered safely and fairly.

In the case of federally mandated standardized tests for students in grades 3–8, canceling the tests would mean applying for a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos warned states in September that they should not expect any waivers to be granted in 2021.

“We will continue to monitor applicable data and make a decision on other State assessment programs as the school year progresses, being mindful of the evolving situation,” Rosa said.

But the Regents exams are unique to New York, and the state will now go at least a year without its signature assessment. This interruption of a once-ubiquitous facet of high school in the Empire State comes at an interesting time for the Regents exam.

In January 2020, when the coronavirus appeared to be a faraway international headline, the Board of Regents had just begun a two-year review of high school graduation requirements that included looking at new paths to a diploma and could have changed the role of Regents exams.

The review was shelved because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In canceling January’s exams, the board echoed a sentiment expressed by many who advocated for canceling Regents tests in the spring: the primary focus during this time of crisis must be providing education rather than assessing it.

“Whether they are engaged in in-school, hybrid, or remote learning, we are committed to ensuring each of New York’s students has access to the rigorous coursework necessary to prepare them for success this year and beyond,” said Board of Regents Vice Chancellor Andrew Brown in a statement.

“The cancellation of the January Regents Examinations will not impact that priority.”