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N.Y. Backs Tougher Exams for All Students

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The New York board of regents last week swept out the state competency tests as a graduation requirement and replaced them with the tougher regents' exams traditionally geared to the state's college-bound students.

But public school students will have to wait until at least fall to find out if they will have to earn the more prestigious and rigorous regents' diploma or whether local diplomas will be acceptable beyond the next four years.

The action is one of several planned to eliminate the two-track system for the state's 2.7 million schoolchildren. Currently, only 38 percent of students earn a regents' diploma.

In the fall, the regents plan to address the diploma issue as well as continue to revise the exams and link them with academic standards that the regents are expected to vote on this summer.

"The public demands higher standards," said Carl T. Hayden, the board's chancellor. "The board of regents' decision today represents the most significant increase in standards in the history of New York education."

New York is just one of the states moving to increase graduation requirements as a way to spur higher academic expectations. (See Education Week, Feb. 21, 1996.)

Tougher Over Time

The state will phase in the new requirement beginning with the freshmen class that enters high school in the fall. Ninth graders will have to take the regents' exam in English and score 65--out of a possible 100--to pass. Schools may set passing scores as low as 55 to award a local diploma.

In addition to English, incoming freshmen in 1997 also will be required to take the regents' exam in math. In 1998, U.S. history and global studies will be added, and in 1999, the freshmen will also take the regents' exam in science.

By 2000, entering freshmen will be required to take exams in all five subjects and score at least 65.

The revised exams will include more writing, science experiments, and complex math problems, said Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills. Moreover, he said, "we will move to make the state elementary and middle school tests more challenging."

The regents are urging state lawmakers to provide an additional $269 million in state aid for the schools, $13 million more for professional development, and $20 million for textbooks.

Some observers expect the more challenging tests to boost the high school dropout rate. But state officials said they had heard the same fears expressed when the regents in 1979 approved the competency tests. Instead, the dropout rate declined as a result, said Alan Ray, a spokesman for the regents.

"If you challenge students, they do rise to it," he said.

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