ALBANY — As leaders of New York's public education bureaucracy rethink their reliance on Regents exams, an Albany think tank is suggesting they be replaced by college admissions tests.
A new report issued by the Rockefeller Institute of Government suggests the SAT (formerly known as the Scholastic Assessment Test) and the ACT (American College Testing) could be stitched into New York's high school testing regimen.
The report's author, Brian Backstrom, noted that nearly two dozen states offer “ACT Days” or “SAT Days” during the regular school year, asking all public high school juniors to sit for the exams. The schools cover the fees for the college exams, he said.
It would be an opportunity for New York to avoid "having to reinvent the wheel," Backstrom pointed out in an interview.
School administrators could expect to see a drop in the average college exam score if all students took the test, but the benefit would be that more students would choose pursuing their education at a college, he said.
"Why not take this opportunity to increase college access for literally tens of thousands of kids who wouldn't normally take a college admissions test?" Backstrom said. "I think you would see a lot of kids start thinking about college" if they could take the exam on a regular school day without cost, rather than having to pay to take it on a Saturday.
Backstrom also noted college admissions officers do not factor in scores from the New York Regents exams when evaluating the applications submitted by students.
The decision on whether the Regents exams should continue as New York's "gold standard" for evaluating the academic achievement of students will be up to the Board of Regents, made up of appointees of the state Legislature. The board oversees the state Education Department.
The Regents along with agency officials have signaled they will appoint a study commission in September to consider an overhaul of the current system.
"This is not about changing our graduation standards," said Emily DeSantis, spokeswoman for the Education Department. "It’s about providing different avenues — equally rigorous — for kids to demonstrate they are ready to graduate with a meaningful diploma.”
The chancellor of the Board of Regents, Betty Rosa, declared in March that New York is open to adopting a new measurement, asking: “To what degree does requiring passage of Regents exams for a diploma improve student achievement, graduation rates and college readiness?"
In New York high schools now, students must pass at least four Regents exams to get Regents diplomas.
The idea of using the SAT or the ACT as a performance measurement is getting mixed reviews.
Niagara Falls City School District Superintendent Mark Laurrie said the Regents exams continue to provide a meaningful measurement. He noted some colleges have begun to drop reliance on SAT and ACT results when evaluating applicants, opting instead to put emphasis on their community involvement and work experience.
"The SAT and ACT are not aligned with school curriculum, and so we would be testing kids on things they haven't been taught," Laurrie said.
In Delhi, Jason Thomson, superintendent of Delaware Academy Central School District, said New York has embraced the Regents testing for more than 140 years.
"Just because we have done something that long doesn't mean it's wrong, and it doesn't mean it's right," Thomson said, noting he welcomes the coming review.
He also pointed out it costs the state millions of dollars each year to come up with fresh exams.
"I like the fact that we're open to not doing business as usual," he said.
The report from the Rockefeller Institute is an intriguing recommendation, though one concern would be how the cost of administering those tests would be covered, said David Albert, director of communications for the New York State School Boards Association.
Encouraging students to take those tests is a good idea, though completing them shouldn't be a graduation requirement if they remain out of alignment with the state's curriculum, Albert said.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org