May/June 2022 Issue

NYSUT fighting for Regents exam safety net

Author: By Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: NYSUT Board member Joe Najuch, Newfane Teachers Association. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

In a year fraught with learning disruptions, NYSUT is urging state education officials to extend the “safety net” for students who don’t pass the Regents exams, but meet all other graduation requirements.

“We urge you to do what is fair and equitable for the students,” NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene T. DiBrango wrote in a letter to the commissioner and Regents. She noted schools have been dealing with multiple interruptions due to COVID-19 absences, severe staff shortages and transportation challenges.

“After a full year and a half of remote and hybrid learning, this school year has been difficult for our students to adjust to,” DiBrango said. “Students are overwhelmed socially and emotionally, and we have all seen the increase in mental health issues because of the isolation, trauma and other effects of the pandemic that many students endured.” NYSUT is asking SED to extend the safety net approved for both 2020 and 2021, allowing Regents diplomas to be issued without the required Regents exams.

In 2020, the Regents exams were canceled entirely after school buildings shut down statewide due to the pandemic.

In 2021, SED canceled most Regents exams, except four that were federally required. Exams were administered to a small number of students, but a passing score was not required to pass the course for graduation. In December, SED canceled the January 2022 exams, saying they could not be safely, equitably and fairly administered across the state. The Board of Regents modified graduation requirements so students would not be adversely impacted by the cancelation of the January exams.

Extending the safety net again will allow teachers and students to focus on the work of teaching and learning, confident that students who meet all other graduation requirements will not lose their chance to earn a diploma, DiBrango said.

At NYSUT’s Local and Retiree Council President’s Conference in early April, a number of local union leaders told Commissioner Betty Rosa they did not think their students were ready for the Regents exams in June — academically or emotionally.

Newfane TA’s Joe Najuch told the commissioner he’s always looked forward to seeing how his students do on the Geometry Regents Exam — but not this year.

“I don’t think my students are ready,” he said, noting many students are traumatized and have been in and out of school due to COVID-19. Many of his 10th and 11th grade students have never taken a Regents exam.

“We are continuing to look at this issue,” Rosa said, noting that the federal Department of Education rejected New York’s request for a testing waiver. She said SED will administer the Regents, but it’s unclear what will happen with the results.