Advanced Placement U.S History Reviewing For The Examination Student Edition NY High School Regents Exams: Do We Still Need Them?

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NY High School Regents Exams: Do We Still Need Them?

NY High School Regents exams began in New York State in 1876, a hundred years after our nation’s Declaration of Independence. While they’ve evolved, they continue to this day, testing NY’s high school students in most academic subjects.

Students who passed their exams received Regents certificates. This too has evolved. High school students who pass the required Regents receive a Regents diploma, which carries some clout in the college admissions process.

The first Regents exams were: algebra, American history, elementary Latin, natural philosophy, and physical geography. First administered in June 1878, their purpose was to insure that the subjects were taught thoroughly enough so that pupils who went on to more advanced studies after high school would be well prepared.

Today, over a century later, does it make sense that New York high schools continue to prepare students for Regents exams? Are Regents exams relevant or are they vestiges of an educational system of yesteryear? Let’s look at some of the pros and cons.

Cons. Some argue that they should be discontinued because they’re no longer relevant. They point out that since the majority of students now take the SAT or ACT tests, Regents exams are no longer needed to ascertain that students have learned enough to go on to college.

Even more prevalent among is the position that it’s not uncommon for students to coast along during the school year only to consume past Regents exams and learn the course on their own in the last weeks before the June exams.

Pros. Let’s look at the other side of the argument, starting with the last point. No doubt teachers prefer students to follow closely all year. However, an “A” grade on a Regents exam does carry some weight. Somehow, between what the teacher did all year and what the student did, it worked. The student has learned the required material and has met the Regents standards.

Many disagree that Regents exams are no longer relevant. They continue to set high standards for each course. And, because everyone knows what the standards are, it’s easier for the teachers to meet these standards and it’s easier for students to learn the material covered. In addition, because standards remain stable over many years, textbook and review book publishers have an incentive to produce comprehensive and high quality books.

A related benefit to continuing Regents exams is the standards themselves. The standards are independent of the school. Because of this, they can’t be compromised by students, teachers or parents. So, for example, if a large group of students in a school gets together and essentially boycotts a topic, they know that the teacher can’t yield to their demands and modify the standards.

In general, Regents standards and exams are a safety net for teachers and students. The advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. The Regents provide teachers a basic curriculum. After that, the teachers have the freedom to be as ambitious and creative as they’d like. If they want to enrich the curriculum, that’s great. Similarly, if enough students are capable or ambitious, they can encourage the teacher to go beyond the curriculum and enrich the course to meet their needs and interests.

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