One by one, several parents approached the microphone during the Lynbrook School District’s Board of Education meeting on Oct. 18. For more than an hour, they spoke with board members about how they believed it was unfair for Regents exams to count for 20 percent of students’ final grades.
“These tests are not fair,” said Jennifer Hinderstein, a parent of a student in middle school. “They’re not valid. They’re poorly written, and they’re hurting our kids.”
Two days later, Lynbrook High School Principal Joseph Rainis sent home a letter to parents, announcing that the district was implementing a no-harm practice for Regents exams. Under it, the tests will count for 20 percent of the final grade for students who are helped by them, and will not affect those who do poorly.
The students who are negatively affected by the exam will instead have each marking quarter count for 25 percent of their final grade, Rainis said. Those who do not pass the Regents cannot graduate with a Regents diploma until they do so.
The change will begin next June, and will also count retroactively for those impacted by last June’s controversial geometry Regents, which included a question that could not be answered and one that had more than one answer
“I believe there is a great deal of mistrust in the New York state assessment model, beginning with the [grades] three to eight assessments all the way through the Regents exams,” Superintendent Dr. Melissa Burak said in a statement emailed to the Herald. “Unfortunately, that mistrust has led to a general sentiment of either opting out or reducing the value of the exams.
I can only hope that when opportunities arise, which allow students to see a way that might boost themselves academically, they take advantage of that and work hard throughout the entire year.”
Jonathan Burman, a spokesman for the State Education Department, said the department leaves decisions like the no-harm rule up to the districts. “Decisions about student grades and grading policies are left to the local school districts," Burman said.
Gerard Beleckas, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment, said that a committee of teachers and administrators met on Oct. 6 to discuss the issue. He said they shared information about what other districts are doing and how colleges look at students’ grade point averages. He noted that most universities do not account for the Regents’ effect on students’ final grades.
Beleckas said that 18 districts the committee looked at in Nassau County weighted the Regents between 10 and 12 percent of students’ final grades. He added that 11 districts had it at 20 percent, five had it from 0 to 9 percent, and three 15 to 19 percent.
Beleckas said that two other districts in the county have instituted the no-harm practice. The committee recommended reducing the weight of the Regents exams to 15 percent of students’ final grades, but many parents said that they believed that was still too high.
Beleckas said there was concern that adding a no-harm rule might affect students’ motivation. Rainis, who was also on the committee, told the Herald that administrators and students would continue to prepare rigorously for the tests despite the change.
“Regents exams scores will always appear on a college transcript, and therefore, their efforts on those exams will always be easy to see, and I think that everybody realizes that competition for placement in careers and colleges is pretty fierce,” Rainis said. “That’s why I’m pretty confident that our students and staff will always take the exams seriously, and the students will continue to perform well on them.”
Voicing their concerns
Many of those who spoke at the board meeting said they were concerned that teachers have no input in Regents exams because they are administered by the state. Others noted that since the State Education Department does not enforce how the tests are weighted, students in districts that count the tests for less than 20 percent have an advantage when applying to competitive colleges.
Hinderstein also pointed out that the State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who was a supporter of Common Core, said that the department does not require or recommend Regents exam grades be part of the calculation of students’ final averages. “If this is a woman who is pro-Common Core, and loves these tests, and she’s saying, ‘Do not use them in the GPA,’ why in the hell would you?” Hinderstein said. “I don’t get it. It doesn’t make sense to me.”
Marybeth Stalter, another concerned parent, said that students need to average a 90 to get into the National Honor Society. “There are students who are not being inducted into an Honor Society because they’re not hitting a certain grade point average,” she said, “and there are also certain scholarships that are affected by grade point average.”
Lesli Deninno, the Board of Education vice president, brought up the possibility of adding a no-harm policy. Trustee Heather Hanson urged the administration to act, saying there have been “some really bad education policies” issued by the state recently, which has led to an increased number of opt-outs on other state tests. However, she added, all parents can do is advocate for change, because they cannot opt their children out of Regents exams.
“There is not a lot that we can do about the exams they have to take from third to eighth grade,” Hanson said. “There is something we could do about this. And we should do something about this. I think this number is just way too high.”
Mikhala Lang, Lynbrook High School senior , also addressed the board. She said she had Common Core infused into her curriculum as an eighth-grader, and gave examples of how she was helped and hurt by the 20 percent rule. Lang said she was on track to fail algebra because she had many extracurricular activities, but she ended up doing well on the Regents, so her course grade improved. She noted, however, that she failed the chemistry Regents, and it hurt her grade — though she did not fail the course.
“The most logical resolution, from my perspective and my understanding of it, is the no-harm policy that was mentioned before,” Lang said to a smatter of applause. “I feel like it takes care of the issue of there being a fear that students won’t be motivated.”